The church I grew up in wasn’t liturgical – we didn’t participate in Lent or many of the other religious holidays like my Methodist and Catholic friends. We were Baptist, so Easter, Christmas, and Independence Day were the big things in the church, along with Football Sunday, since I grew up in the South.
As an adult, I began to recognize some value in exploring my religious history – my Jewish roots as well as my protestant Christian roots – and discovered this practice of Lent. I participated a few years in my early twenties right after receiving my Bachelor’s in Evangelism and Discipleship degree from the prestigious Moody Bible Institute, but then I found the practice a bit lacking when all I was doing was “giving up chocolate” or skipping social media.
The practices most have shared with me felt shallow and uninspiring. My Lenten practice dropped off and it’s been a few years since I’ve bothered. This year, however, perhaps because of joining a denomination that participates in Lent and values sacrifice for spiritual benefit, I decided to explore this once again. I didn’t want to just give something up, though – I wanted to gain from my practice.
Giving Up Worry and Stress for Faith and Joy
For Lent this year, I chose to give up stress and worry for joy and faith. When something terrible happens, when something rubs me the wrong way, or when a client doesn’t pay after multiple notices, I have a choice.
Since February 17, I have been making this choice every day, sometimes multiple times a day.
- Acknowledge my frustration, anger, stressor, anxiety, fear, etc., saying it out loud or writing it down.
- Let myself feel the emotions and understand what they are, why I’m feeling them, and who – if anyone – has caused this trigger.
- Ask myself, “Can I do anything about this?” If I can, I work through solutions to resolve the issue. If I cannot, I acknowledge that aloud. “I cannot change this.”
- Look for positives in the situation: “I can’t get to the store right now, so I can use this opportunity to experiment with the ingredients in my cabinet.”
- If it’s more of a matter of faith, I acknowledge my inability to change the circumstances and then pray – asking God to take care of it because I can’t.
As I’ve been spending these weeks engaging in this practice, my stress levels have drastically reduced, I’ve spent more time in meditation and prayer (without even intending to), I’ve been able to connect more deeply with others, and my health seems to have improved – I have more energy and motivation to workout, daydream, and even get out my easel and paints at night.
Here are alternative things that you can do for lent:
Because not everyone has the same concerns and issues I have, I wanted to share some other great practices I’ve seen shared this Lenten season. I’m personally planning to engage some of these after Lent, hoping to make many of these new habits for myself in the long run.
1. Give Up Retail Therapy For Giving Of Yourself And Simple Joys
One blog I found offered the great idea of giving up shopping for anything you don’t need during Lent. The writer suggests putting the money you would have spent into two jars – half for spending later and the other half for donating to a worthy cause.
I’d suggest taking this concept even further – instead of just saving money, donate the time you would have spent shopping to a worthy cause. Even in the pandemic, there are many volunteer opportunities you can take up, from running convention rooms at your favorite fandom cons to answering calls for helplines and donation centers.
A few sites you can use to find volunteer opportunities:
- VolunteerMatch.org – for specific skilled volunteering
- Points of Light – well-known groups and nonprofits as well as others
- Hire Heroes USA – helping veterans and their families
- Tarjimly – volunteer your bilingual skills with refugees, Asylees and Immigrants
- Online Volunteering.org (part of the United Nations) – loads of opportunities of all kinds
2. Give Up One Meal A Day And Use That Time Well
One blogger suggested giving up one meal per day, then replacing that meal with spiritual nourishment instead. Obviously, if you have certain medical conditions (diabetes, hypoglycemia, eating disorders, and some others), this isn’t a good one to practice, but for those who don’t, it can make a big difference in your life.
One year, I did exactly this. Instead of eating my lunch (though I still ate breakfast and dinner), I spent the lunch hour in prayer and Bible study. I still occasionally do this practice and it continues to affect my overall well-being and spiritual health and life.
3. Chuck Your Sense of Entitlement
Pastor Phil Ressler suggested this one: give up your sense of entitlement for Lent. “The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace.”
Especially in this season of self-examination (the season of Lent, yes, but even more this period in history), this is an excellent choice to make for not just your own good, but the good of the world around you. When you no longer believe you’re owed something by the world, by God, or by others, you automatically become a more giving, more compassionate, and more empathetic person.
4. Use Your Change Wisely
Instead of giving up my stress and worry for this 40-day period, I plan to continue this practice for the rest of my life. I know I’ll have slumps and surges, some dark periods, and times when I just won’t want to “think positive.” Knowing, however, how dramatically this has changed my life for the good, even in just a couple of weeks, I have the motivation to continue with it and revisit regularly when I do “slump.”
Any of the above practices suggested for this Lenten season (and, yes, you can start now, even three weeks in!) are beneficial to our whole beings.