What is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Lent? Sacrifice, 40 days, Holy Week, Good Friday, tradition, processions, the colour purple, chocolate (- or rather, the lack of it). When we think about Lent, the only thing we may feel is dread as we prepare for 40 gloomy days until we celebrate Easter (by eating our body weight at a Chinese buffet).
Is that really all it is though? Do we really think that Jesus cares whether or not we give up eating sweets for 40 days?
Removing something we use a lot in our daily life (whatever it is) can give us a clearer view of what it means to us in our life and process of growth. Perhaps I’m prioritising something way too much when it deserves less attention or maybe I’m not giving something enough importance and it should be at the top of the list. If we are unaware of the need for change, we are going to keep trudging through obstacles with our head down as opposed to growing through struggles with our head held high. It is not enough to say that you want to centre your life around God. What are you actually doing to make that happen? What decisions are you too afraid to take, even though you know they will turn your life around for the better?
In a more practical way, I ask myself this question: What is something that I need to pass up, and take up during Lent, that I can then keep up even after the 40 days are over?
If you don’t know where to start, here are a few suggestions:
Pass It Up
- Spending all your time on your phone – start making eye contact with the people you love
- Having the television on in the background all the time– to avoid sitting with our thoughts and feelings
- Having earphones on all the time – the silence isn’t as awkward as you may think (and if it is, challenge yourself to sit with it)
- Eating excessively – do you really need to get up for more?
- Spreading rumours and gossiping – nobody needs to know what you think you saw Kelly doing last night
- Complaining and grumbling – nobody needs to know that you’re cold, tired, or hungry every 5 minutes
- Watching pornography – read a few tips here and here’s why porn kills love
- Road rage and losing your temper – just don’t drive or get a punching bag
- Hate speech – people actually read social media comments, did you know that?
- Alcohol – there are other ways to enjoy life
- Drinking more than 1 cup of coffee – train your body to be obedient to your will
- Social media – I once gave up Instagram for 40 days
- Being late – rushing, snapping at people who you get in your way, need I go on?
- Buying expensive things you don’t really need – trust me, you’ll live without the Airpods Max
- Making excuses to avoid going to mass – do you really need to finish that series now?
Take It Up
- Start reading the Bible – or listen to the audio here instead
- Write short notes of encouragement to people you are thankful for. Choose 40 people, write one everyday and message it to them – yes, you can write one to yourself too
- Listen to more worship music – I would recommend Christian playlists on Spotify or bands: Bethel, Hillsong, SEU Worship, Taya, Jeremy Riddle, SALT, Pilgrim & King, Shane & Shane
- Add more exercise – Do something fun! The discipline of sticking to an exercise routine will be reflected in the discipline of sticking to a prayer routine.
- Go to mass more than once a week – at least twice; our relationship with Jesus is more than just a Sunday faith.
- Take cold showers – don’t come at me on this, I’ve heard good things!
- Volunteer somewhere at least once a week – start using your time for others
- Spend a few minutes talking to Jesus during your commute – if you need help handling road rage
- Apologise when you know you’re wrong – out of all the options in this list, this might be the hardest thing to do
- Have mature conversations with people – especially when difficult
- Voice your feelings – or process your emotions and understand yourself more
- Check in on your grandparents, parents or friends more often – even if they are going to go on and on about every wrong decision you’ve taken until now
- Start saying the rosary – it’s not as tiring and monotonous as you think. Meet with a group of friends, and pray together. You’d be surprised at how much peace this brings.
- Read a chapter from a spiritual book every Sunday – keep reading even after Lent!
- Establish a morning routine – get out of bed earlier, make yourself a coffee, have a bath, read your Bible, get yourself ready to face the day
Now that you’ve chosen one thing to pass up and one thing to take up during Lent, remember that growing is not limited to 40 days each year. Whatever you have chosen, try to keep it up during the rest of the year and surprise yourself with the change you see as the little steps you take in the right direction produce a lifestyle you can thrive in.
Lent is a great time to reflect on your priorities and decide to make better choices, but don’t let this time come and go without it having an effect on your life. Maybe you realised that you need to read the Bible more and you have been trying to do that during the 40 days. Maybe you were making an effort to cut out pornography. Maybe you’ve tried to use social media less. Stick through it even after Lent. Whatever you’ve decided to do this year, God is calling you to keep working at it even after the 40 days. Instead of sacrifices, call them ‘challenges’ and keep track of your growth.
A person who doesn’t grow is ruled by the past, stuck in the present and cautious of the future. So place your frustrations and hurts at Jesus’ feet and you can be forgiven for the past, live freely in the present and dream enthusiastically for the future. There is victory in the cross because we believe in a God who was dead, until He wasn’t.
So what are you waiting for? Pass it up, Take it up and Keep it Up!
Written by Sarah Zammit Munro