“What are you giving up for Lent?” In my youth, this question was fraught with the anxiety of choosing which I would rather give up for forty days: ice cream or chocolate. More recently though, I have tried to embrace the ascetic element of this liturgical season as an opportunity to examine how God is inviting me to let go and who God is inviting me to become.
Putting away the old self and putting on the new
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul summons readers to “put away the old self of your former way of life” and instead to “put on the new self, created in God’s way of righteousness and holiness of truth.” Lent presents a similar invitation. It’s an opportunity to put away the old self (along with all those actions, habits, thoughts or things that keep us from from being made new) and put on the new self, the new creation we each became in our baptism.
Before Lent begins, set aside time to take an inventory of your life and answer two related questions. First, how is God inviting me to let go? Second, who is God inviting me to become?
How is God inviting me to let go?
Each of us clings to something (many things actually) that keeps us from growing closer to God. The list of possibilities is endless: material goods, habits of thought or action, ways of being, unhealthy relationships, etc. In most cases, when we cling to something, it’s because we are afraid of what will happen when we let go. In other words, we are afraid to trust that God will be there if we open our hands.
To explore how God might be inviting you to let go, pray with Luke 12:27-40. Ask God to show you those things to which you cling, ask for the grace to let go of them and tell God that you place your trust in Him. Jesus, I trust in you.
Who is God inviting me to become?
We are adopted sons and daughters of God. Thanks to our baptism, this is both a reality and a vocation. It’s a reality in the sense that we are already Christ’s. It’s our vocation in the sense that we haven’t arrived yet. We’re not yet perfect, and God still has many gifts in store for us.
To explore how God is inviting you to grow, pray with 1 Peter 1:13-25. Ask God to share with you a vision of holiness, ask for the grace to pursue it and tell God that you desire to love as He loves and always do His will. Thy will be done.
Choosing your Lenten practices
Praying with the two questions above will make it easier to choose your Lenten practices more thoughtfully and confidently. Below, I have listed each of the three traditional categories of Lenten practice (fasting, almsgiving and prayer) and few ideas for each one.
Fasting is the first thing most people think of when it comes to Lenten practices. Each time we make the choice to give something up, we also create new space to live into our vocations. Keep this in mind as you choose something from which to fast for Lent.
Social media Consider giving up social media altogether or only using it for 10 minutes or less each day. With the new time you gain, invest in your relationships in other ways.
Complaining or gossip Consider giving up complaining and gossip. Each time you feel compelled to complain or gossip, fill that space with something good. Say a prayer of thanksgiving or compliment someone near you.
Snacking Consider fasting between meals during the week. Each time you want to snack but successfully wait to eat until the next meal, record a tally for yourself. At the end of Lent, donate a quarter for each tallied success to a local soup kitchen or food bank.
Almsgiving is the act of giving some good to another person out of love. Each time we give something to another, we literally let it go. If we let it go out of love, then we also take a step towards becoming the person God made us to be.
Give your time Consider memorizing the works of mercy (both corporal and spiritual). Then, do one spiritual and one corporal work of mercy each week of Lent. This is perfect timing, since there are seven weeks of Lent and seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy.
Give your talent Think of what things you do well. Then, consider asking your pastor if the parish has a project or need that someone with your talents could undertake during Lent. If you have the ability to do it, undertake this work and do it joyfully.
Give your treasure Tithing is a longstanding practice in the Christian tradition. Consider tithing for the next seven weeks and give ten percent of your net income to the Church or some charitable work that benefits the poor.
In prayer, we let go of our time and place God in control of our lives. It's only through prayer and developing our relationship with God that we stand any chance of living our vocation to love.
In the car Consider praying during your daily commute. It'll help let go of the noise of life and become more centered on God.
Local pilgrimage Consider making a pilgrimage to the holy places in your community (the cathedral, regional shrines, other parishes). You can pick one pilgrimage site each week and take your family along with you.
Stations of the cross Consider praying the stations of the cross weekly. This is a traditional Lenten practice, and many parishes host the stations every Friday during Lent.
Share your ideas
If you have other ideas for how to pray, fast and give alms during Lent, please share them with the community below.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in February of 2019.