We’re entering into Lent tomorrow and how is it already Lent tomorrow? It kind of snuck up on me this year, and yet I’m actually prepared. It’s probably because this year for Lent, I’m keeping it relatively simple. I tend to over-complicate things and add on way more than I should and end up feeling like a failure at the end. (Like that year I gave up complaining… and ended up complaining 100x more). But this year, I’m just focusing on the areas that I really feel God calling me closer to him. I’m not sharing these things to pretend I’m holier than thou or to even say that I’m going to stick to them. I’m sharing 80% to give myself accountability and 20% to maybe give someone a last minute idea of something to incorporate into their Lenten practice this year.
One of my favorite Catholic fun facts is that Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation for us (we don’t have to go), and yet it is one of the most attended masses of the year, after Christmas and Easter. Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to humble ourselves and also to be marked by an outward sign of our faith. I think people are drawn to the symbol of their faith in the ashes as well as to acts of penance. Lent is like another opportunity to start a new year’s resolution. We enjoy a little suffering every now and then if it draws us to being a better person- plus it’s only for 40 days, right?
I like to look at my Lenten practices as the start of something that’s going to stick. Whether that’s incorporating prayer and the scriptures better, practicing self control through fasting, or beginning a habit of charity and almsgiving, Lent gives us an opportunity to really come back to the heart of what it means to be a son or daughter of God. At least, that’s what it should be- a time of drawing closer to God. The best thing about that is, my Lent doesn’t have to look like your Lent, just as my relationship with God isn’t going to look like yours. God calls us each to our individual relationships and asks us during this time of Lent to grow in that.
So, I’ve figured out one or two things in each of the pillars of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving that I hope will act to bring me closer to God and to being the best version of myself (which I tend to think are the same thing). I hope that by sharing, I’ll be able to actually stick to what I’m saying I’m going to do (40 days is a looooong time!) and maybe one of you will feel called to do one or more of the things along with me 🙂
I think devoting good time to prayer is probably the most important part of Lent, especially since the point is to grow in relationship with God and prayer is just that. In my year of quiet so far, I’ve managed to keep up my weekly holy hour. With that, however, I’ve somehow gotten so much worse at devoting some time daily to quiet prayer because I’ll just talk to God when I do my holy hour. That’s not really how it works, so in Lent, my prayer focus is on taking back some of each day to give it to prayer.
To help, I’m using the book Prayer: 40 Days of Practice by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson. I’ve sprinkled this book into my prayer time before, but I’m excited to come back to it day after day throughout Lent rather than just sporadically. The book is laid out with a short prayer and contemplative imagery for each day, and they’re really convicting. Each set of six prayers also goes along with a different spiritual practice- journaling, exercise, fasting, meditation, lament, and intercession. While I’ve dabbled in most of these practices, I’m excited to actually go full in and see what type of prayer is working in this phase of my life.
Something that I’ve started recently and hope to continue through Lent- and hopefully beyond- is incorporating more scripture into my prayer. Someone I’m following on Instagram shared their way of getting into their Bible everyday and I really loved it, so I’m trying it for myself. She said she picks a word and googles it before 30 day bible plan and a whole bunch of suggestions come up. So I decided to start with “quiet” as it’s my word of the year.
This is one of the plans that came up, and it’s been really good so far! Each day, I’m reading the listed verses and the passage around it, writing down the verses in my notebook to come back to. It’s been really beautiful to dig back into scripture and see what God has to say to me each day. If you do nothing else for Lent, read a little bit from your Bible everyday- this is really the greatest way to grow in relationship with God.
Now on to Fasting. This is the biggie of Lent, the one everyone is about and asking about – “What are you going to give up for Lent?” While, Catholics are called to give up meat on Fridays (which I actually haven’t *had* to do for the past few years because I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding), we’re also called to either give up or add something that helps us practice self-control. That could be something as simple as chocolate or as crazy as giving up your car. I really like this list from Kendra Tierney of Catholic All Year if you’re still looking for something for yourself.
I don’t even remember what I gave up last year, or if I added something instead, but it obviously didn’t have a big effect on me. This year, I looked at my life and tried to see what was most keeping me from God and keeping me from being my best self. In continuing with my 30 Day Break Up with your phone challenge (which I’ll share soon how it went!), I’ve decided to be social media free during the awake hours of our kids. Instead, I’m hoping to use that time to get some more prayer in, focus better on my children, and to just be (and maybe do a few of these activities).
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The pillar of Almsgiving is always the hardest for me to figure out what to do that I feel will actually make an impact. Almsgiving is the sharing of money, time, and/or talents with those in need. We’re pretty good at doing sporadic donations to different charities and to the church, so for us giving a sum of money to a certain charity just doesn’t feel “Lent-y.” And while, I’d really love to be able to volunteer somewhere in some capacity, it’s just been really hard to find something that works in this stage of life of having little kids. I was thinking about making a meal for a different family each week, and then realized that we don’t actually know many people to even make meals for (so maybe that’s actually something I should work on… haha)
In finalizing what I was going to do for this pillar, I found our local Catholic Charities page and looked into what their current needs are. We’ve donated semi-regularly to the Pregnancy Help Center run through them, and I wanted to see if they had any other organizations that need a little extra help right now. I found that they are asking for “Hope Kits” for refugees resettling in our area. This is an issue that my husband and I have felt passionate about, but didn’t really know how to actually help. While, it’s just a little something for us to put together a basket or two of cleaning or kitchen supplies, it will hopefully help someone who has gone through unimaginable trauma feel welcomed and loved in a small way.
I definitely suggest looking into your local Catholic Charities or any other reputable organization that’s really helping people and see what their needs are during this season. I feel like so many organizations get extra donations during the Christmas holiday season that by this point of the year, they’re starting to run a little dry. Let us give a little bit extra of our money, time, or talents to these organizations that do the work of caring for our neighbors well.