In many Christian traditions, the 40 days leading up to Easter make up the season of Lent. If you are new to the process or are looking for ways to breathe new life into it, take some time to focus and choose specific ways you will observe it this year.
Find Your Focus
While Lent is practiced in many different ways throughout the world, most of them include three main pillars:
These three categories are quite broad. On the one hand, this gives you a lot of freedom when deciding how to practice. Conversely, so many choices may be daunting, especially for people who are new to the practice. The first thing you need to do is to seek counsel from your spiritual leaders. There may be rituals that are specific to your faith community to help guide you. Many churches also commit to specific readings or devotions that they explore together.
Another way to find your focus is through personal reflection. Lent is a prime opportunity to examine both your excesses and your needs. Are there areas of your budget that could be adjusted to allow for more generous giving to a local charity? Do you often feel exhausted at the end of the day, indicating that you need more time for rest in your schedule? Take at least a few weeks before the season begins to focus on how you want to spend it.
Give Something Up
Many people who observe Lent give up certain types of food during the season. In fact, the night before Lent begins, referred to as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, is traditionally the time when households make a feast to use up the extra butter, oil, or other foods they plan to abstain from until Easter. Leaders may encourage members of their faith communities to design their own fast according to their personal excesses. For example, if you typically spend a lot of time playing video games or scrolling social media, you may consider dropping or significantly limiting the habit during Lent. This gives you more time for prayer and reflection.
Add Something New
Another common practice is to add a devotional or volunteer time to help others or build community. Your family may choose to spend the hours you're not sitting in front of the television to volunteer at a soup kitchen or animal shelter. You may challenge yourself to 40 days of random acts of kindness or writing letters to people you've lost touch with. Choose a book with daily prompts to discuss with your book club or another small group. Anything that enriches your ability to pray, fast or help others can be a meaningful use of your time.
Prepare for the Season
After you have decided how you are going to observe Lent, the next step is making sure you have everything you need to get started once Ash Wednesday arrives. Hopefully, your practices aren't so elaborate that they take months of planning. Setting aside a few hours the weekend before it begins should suffice for adequate preparation.
If your family is observing the season together, all family members need to be included in the preparation. Talk about the process, especially the parts in which children are participating, and explain not only what you're doing but also why you're doing it. The season is more meaningful for everyone involved when they understand the reason behind it.
Not every Christian community observes Lent, but those that do find that it is a great time for reflection, repentance and restoration. If you are looking for a new tradition to try or want to breathe new life into your existing practices, consider what the Lenten season can offer.