Since I was a kid Lenten resolutions were a big thing. I remember giving up chocolate in 7th grade. A friend of mine threw a party for her birthday on Holy Saturday. I told my parents I couldn’t go because I had given up chocolate. They told me that Lent was over and that Holy Saturday was looking forward to Easter, and so off I went…. Needless to say, I’m still a chocoholic.
So now that we’ve almost finished the regular run of blog posts and comments and conversations about Lenten resolutions for this year, I wanted to offer some thoughts about Lenten practices (not resolutions).
When I was a little girl I played piano. One of the important things I had to do every day was “practice” scales. Every. Day. When I was assigned this by my piano teacher, she didn’t say, “Well you just need to do this for a month or two then you can stop. Maybe the following year you could try it again if you felt like it.” No. Practicing scales is important because it makes you a top-notch pianist. Practicing every day forms you as a musician. There never is an end to it, unless of course you give up piano playing (which I did do as an adult). And I bet concert pianists, just like Olympian athletes practice many hours a day. Every. Day.
So what does this have to do with Lent?
This year I was thinking about how making Lenten resolutions at least sometimes, if not often, backfires. We give up chocolate every day for forty days and then we make up for it the first week of Easter. Or we give up our favorite TV program and then binge on it during the Easter Season.
Practices are meant to form you, perfect you, shape you, transform you from a so-so pianist, athlete or Christian to an outstanding one. And in this case, into a saint!
How to Start
So my thoughts about this are simple:
- Ask Jesus what he would like to give you this Lent. How do you want me to be more like you, Lord? In what area of my life? With which person? In what situation?
- Think about what aspects of your Christian living disappoint you the most. What are you at least slightly hiding or ashamed of. What do you wish were different.
- Then make a strategy of practices that you can BEGIN in Lent and then CONTINUE for the rest of your life. (Don’t get worried, you can modify them, perfect them, make them work better for you, but practice daily you must. After all, becoming holy and living in Christ is the most important thing in your life!)
Make a Strategy
Here are some elements you make part of your strategy. (This list is not for you to choose one thing, but to create a wholistic, integrated strategy that touches all aspects of your life.)
- Choose a book to read that addresses the area you most want to see lifted up to the Face of the Lord. Read a little bit of it every day and reflect on it. If you already have one in mind, go through and mark about 10 places in that book that you can focus on during the season of Lent so that you create a habit in those areas. (I found an old book I had greatly highlighted several years back. I located about 10 pages in it to focus on that embrace different aspects of living in holiness, and every day I choose one of these to read and reflect on. It’s not something to DO. It is rather something to take to meditation, to become convinced of, to more clearly understand how it works, what it means for you, what your resistances are, what your desires are, what you need in order to succeed.)
- Think about a couple of prayer forms or guides you could use throughout the season of Lent to make your prayer more focused, more intense.
- Identify one habit/addiction you have that is standing in your way to a deeper relationship with God. Determine something else you can do, say, eat, or have instead that will promote your holiness and which is attractive enough for you to consider it a reasonable and preferable life-change you’ll really want to keep. (For instance, I love butterscotch. For health reasons, I need to let go of chocolate completely. This Lent I’m making a conscious transition away from sugar and chocolate to peanut butter and sugar-free butterscotch pudding. Letting go of some things that are highly addictive and destructive to my health is a health decision on one level. On another level, however, it is a choice for a more intentional temperate relationship with food that is socially conscious. The fact that neither of my new choices is highly addictive will help me keep it up as well as open up the spiritual space within that sugar and chocolate is closing down.)
- Is there one person you can give your life for, in the spirit of Jesus who gave his life for you? What are some concrete things you can do to serve them, pray for them, support them?
- Choose one quote from the bible and one quote from a saint as your tagline for Lent 2023, your rallying cry to keep you coming back to the cross to beg Jesus for his grace that you might love him more truly.
After 40 days of practicing, probably rearranging and perfecting your strategy, and even possibly changing mid-stream, you should have a spiritual sense of what God is doing in your life through your commitment and perseverance. On Holy Saturday, Lent may be over, but the Easter Season begins that evening with the Easter Vigil. So you actually have 50 more days of practicing, but now in a spirit of joy!
You’ll be pleasantly surprised after 100 days of practicing that what was once an obstacle or a struggle has now become integrated into who you are in Jesus. It will be so wonderful, that you won’t ever want to stop practicing. You’ll just expand your practices, like a pianist who has moved beyond the basic scales and now has made even practicing a work of art!
Wishing you a blessed Lent!
Image credit: Vytautas Markūnas SDB via Cathopic