Do you realize how soon Ash Wednesday is? Shoot, y’all, it’s time to start praying on what you’re going to do for Lent.
I’ve always loved Lent. It’s like Jesus Boot Camp–6 weeks of hardcore prayer and fasting, but then you get 7 weeks of Easter, praise the Lord, to gain back all the weight you lost in Lent.1 I’ll write more about the gift of fasting later, I’m sure, but for now, let’s get really practical.
What the heck are you going to do for Lent?
You probably know that the three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.2 Did you know that you’re supposed to do all three? Did you know that you can do more than one thing in each category? Did you know that giving up regular Coke and only drinking Coke Zero, Diet Coke, and Caffeine-free Coke is a totally lame-o way to go?3
Lent is not the time to go so hard that you die–or make others wish they were dead because you’re so cranky. It’s a time to discern what the Lord is calling you to, what he wants you to be more detached from, what sin he’s calling you to abandon, how he wants you to lean on him and love his children. But it can be hard sometimes to come up with something more fruitful than giving up soda, so I thought I’d give you some options.
Fasting is the most obvious. Even non-Catholics will ask you what you gave up for Lent. For some of us, Lent is an opportunity to root out some of the evil in our lives. Maybe it’s time to give one (or a few) of these sins up.
- Complaining–try accepting the cross you’re given instead of objecting that you’d rather choose your own.
- Calling your sister an alien6
- Being snarky or short or cold or whatever it is you do that makes talking to you an act of charity
- Laziness–try exercising for Lent
- Being picky–eat whatever is set before you
- Judging people
- Comparing yourself with others
- Immodest clothing
- Impure books/television/movies/music
Or maybe there’s something good in your life that you’re too dependent on. Or even something good that is healthy for you but that you could offer to the Lord for 40 days. How about:
- Shopping (the frivolous kind, anyway)
- Secular music
- Hitting the snooze button
- Secular reading
- Junk food
- Fast food
- A reasonable diet8
- Cream and sugar in your coffee9
- Social media
- Your pillow
- Hot showers
- Hot food
- Salting your food
- Staying up stupid late–give yourself a bedtime!
- Wasting your life on the internet
- In that vein: youtube
- Wearing your favorite color
- Checking your smartphone when you’re with people12
- Driving when you could walk
- Idle curiosity–try not reading every sign you pass or googling every question you have. If it doesn’t matter, be content not to know.
- Anything that’s about popularity–checking your blog stats, posting things on facebook that are clever but not edifying
Prayer should be at the center of your life all the time, but especially during Lent. Try one of these 50 ways to talk to God on for size, follow this daily Lenten prayer schedule to ease you in to a holy hour, or go for one of the below–altering amount and frequency if you like.
- Daily Mass–maybe even daily!
- A chapter of the Bible a day. You can get through all 4 Gospels if you read 2 chapters a day and don’t skip Sundays.
- 10 minutes of meditation a day
- Chaplet of Divine Mercy
- Join a Bible study at your parish
- 20 minutes of Spiritual reading a day
- The Rosary–a decade or even a whole Rosary each day
- Go to your Church’s Lenten mission
- Stop by an adoration chapel on your way home each day
- Don’t turn on music while you drive–pray instead
- Subscribe to some solid Catholic blogs
- The Liturgy of the Hours–once a day or seven times, if you like. My favorite is the Office of Readings (Matins).
- Wear a crucifix
- Spend the time you would have spent watching TV reading the lives of the Saints or watching documentaries on the Saints
- Go to confession–every week, every other week, for the first time in 30 years….
- Pray the Stations of the Cross every Friday
- Get up early to pray13
- List 5 things you’re grateful for every day
- Be intentional about your time–make a schedule (with prayer featuring prominently) and stick to it
- Go to an art museum or a botanical gardens once a week and just rejoice in beauty
- Break your fast with the Eucharist every day–don’t eat until you’ve been to Mass
- Pick a virtue to strive for each day
- Spend 10 minutes each night talking to the Lord about your day–thanking him for the good and the bad, apologizing for how you fell short, asking for the grace to be better the next day
- Listen to Christian music while you drive
- Listen to Catholic CDs while you drive
- Pick a Saint to be like and do it
- Lectio Divina
- Pay attention at Mass
Almsgiving isn’t always as easy as giving money to the poor. Figure out how you need to love the people around you and do it.
- Donate the money you would have spent on whatever you’re fasting from
- Spend the time you would have spent watching TV with your family
- Visit a nursing home–and bring your little ones if you have them. Nothing takes the awkward out of talking to old people you don’t know like a baby.
- Step up your tithing game from 10% to 15%
- Invite a priest or religious to dinner
- Do that rice bowl thing
- Save up all your change (and maybe even your singles) and give them to charity.14
- Write letters to your grandparents
- Call your mother
- Volunteer once a week–soup kitchen, shoveling snow, the nursery at church, whatever!
- Give someone a compliment every day
- Take someone to lunch every week–a lonely coworker, a neighbor you don’t always love, one of your children
- Perform an act of charity every day–do the dishes when it’s not your turn, take your kids to that awful playground they love so much, talk to your parents in multiple-word sentences, pick up litter
- Tell someone about Jesus
Shoot, friends, that’s a lot of stuff–what else would you recommend?
Well, shoot, I added this post to Haley’s Little Holy Days linkup–my very first linkup ever–and totally forgot to add a link back to hers and all the other great Lent posts! And now we’re almost a week into Lent and probably done with any serious traffic on this post,15 but you should click over and see what other people have to say about Lent. Enjoy!
- This is how I know my fasting is not just dieting–because while I may lose weight during Lent, I gain it all back (and then some) during the Octave of Easter. [↩]
- Giving to the poor [↩]
- I’m looking at you, Nathan. [↩]
- Not necessarily a sin, but it’s fair to call it a vice, anyway, right? [↩]
- Yeah, I went there. [↩]
- Or, more broadly, making fun of people. I didn’t do Lent growing up, but I did make this New Year’s resolution once. You’re welcome, Rosie. [↩]
- Stephen Colbert hadn’t tried his own ice cream flavor because he gave up sweets for Lent. Love him. [↩]
- Options include: going vegan, a juice fast, bread and water, or (my favorite) gray and tasteless. I actually went an entire Lent eating only plain, flavorless foods like oatmeal and dry toast. Consult your spiritual director–and maybe your doctor–before doing anything that ridiculous. [↩]
- The only time I’ve ever had black coffee was during the Triduum. How do people drink that stuff?? John Paul (my nephew, not the pope) says it tastes like sidewalk and orange peels. I think it tastes like regurgitated tar. [↩]
- Yes, I’m counting this as a good thing. Did you read my post on 1 Corinthians? That thing was awesome. [↩]
- Probably a bad call if you’re married. [↩]
- Maybe this should go in our first category…. [↩]
- I do not recommend combining this with giving up your snooze button. If you’re anything like me, one of them will have to give. [↩]
- If you do this, switching to your credit card for every purchase is cheating. FYI. [↩]
- Except for the slackers out there–hi! [↩]