Often times, we go through all of Lent ending the same way we started. We don’t always grow in holiness, and there are reasons why this is so. This article will offer you some new and helpful ideas for Lent to help you have a most productive Lenten season.
The Origins of Lent
The origins of Lent are Biblically based. In Matthew chapter 4 says that Jesus went out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights before beginning His public ministry. He prayed, fasted, and emptied Himself completely of everything before the Father. That is the foundation of Lent. Lenten practices are meant to mimic Jesus’s example. In a sense, we go out into the desert to pray, to fast, and to reflect on our life. Additionally, we empty ourselves of that which does not belong to God or is hurting our relationship with Him.
There are only three requirements laid out by the Church for the Lenten season:
- Pray more
- Give Alms
What is the Purpose?
Giving up something (like candy, soda, coffee, etc.) is not a requirement, but it can help to discipline ourselves or to help purify us. The sole purpose of Lent is to come closer to God and to grow in holiness.
Lent is meant to help us to deepen our relationship with Christ, and to prepare our souls for death. The goal is that by the end of Lent we will be in a better place than when we started. We should be closer to Jesus by the end of Lent by working on issues in our spiritual life and removing sins which keep us from God.
Giving Up vs. Growing
For many years in the past, I gave up candy for the 40 days of Lent. I had saved all the candy I would have eaten. At the end of the 40 days was completed I binged on that candy and gorged myself. So, it seems like I missed the point. I returned to the same gluttony I was trying to discipline myself from. If I gave up music for Lent, I would make up for it after the holy season was finished. Giving up these things were not actually making me grow in holiness, or at least not for that long. These things were not bringing me closer to Jesus. Or if they did, it did not last long.
It is not bad to give up candy, soda, music, coffee, or whatnot, but the question is this: is it helping you to become holy. What is your motivation for doing so? While become more disciplined certainly is not wrong, are we growing in holiness? Are we coming closer to Jesus for the long term? Often, when most people hear Lent, they do not usually become extremely excited with joy! On the contrary, they are usually met with a sense of dread or burden. A lot of times it takes on a dark or depressing tone.
A New Way of Fasting
Giving up something is a bit like dying to ourselves, and that is a difficult process. To avoid setbacks, one way I have learned to counter that sense of being overwhelmed and subsequently discouraged during Lent is sometimes to not give up everything all at once. For instance, like many people, I tend to think of different things that I will do that are not realistic and ultimately set myself up to fail, such as: praying for an extra hour a day. If you are already praying for an hour a day and you add an hour to what you do, you are not likely to last a week. Soon, you get little done and you end up giving up entirely. So, we want to make goals that are practical.
Here’s what I do now, and I offer it as an example for you to consider as you discern what you can do:
I give up something in order to discipline myself. For instance, I will “fast” from a sin, an imperfection, or a bad habit so that at the end of Lent I will in a better place. With a better discipline and uprooting sin, I will be in a better place and will have grown closer to God.
A practical example is video games. I also like music. In the past, I would play video games far too often or listen to music constantly: in the car, the bedroom, the kitchen, working, etc. It was difficult to learn to play games and listen to music in moderation. It took three consecutive Lenten seasons of giving up music to break that addiction. Finally, I was able to listen to music in moderation. I realized that I repeated the same pattern with video games. I used to give them up entirely, but as soon as Lent was over, I made up for lost time by playing endless amounts of video games. No lesson learned.
Moderation is Key
To this end, I decided on doing Lent differently. For example, Instead of just giving up video games completely and then binging after Lent, I only played twice a week. Naturally, there were periods where I had to go without playing and decided to pray or do something more constructive instead. This more reasonable pattern taught me to play in moderation as relaxation. I could still enjoy games but in the right amount and at the right times.
Other people struggle with this sort of thing but in other areas like music, social media, binging Netflix, watching the News, and so on. Often, we scroll for hours and hours without even realizing it. Perhaps then, consider cutting down your time on social media or watching TV significantly during Lent so you can spend more time in prayer, or more time reading the Bible, or talking to actual people, or doing needed chores, etc.
Remember, we are not suggesting to give it up cold turkey. We understand that’s not always realistic, but what if you allowed yourself to be on social media only three days a week? Alternately, you could limit yourself to 15 minutes every day. It will be difficult, but by limiting the amount of time and/or frequency, you will be teaching yourself a lifelong and necessary lesson of moderation and not making idols out of created things.
What is Your Struggle?
Moderation is extremely important in life. Sadly, it is not something that we do in the west very much anymore. The most important thing to do is to start at the beginning. If we have an addiction to something we want to work on during Lent, we want to make progress on it, so we need to set ourselves up for success. I’ve had addictions, such as my overuse of games or music. When I say addition, it does not need to be a drastic or a physical addiction. It could be a common habit such as gossiping.
Let’s say that I usually gossip, but through Lent I start working on reducing that. I tame my tongue and I don’t speak poorly about others behind their back. Maybe I’m not perfect by the end of Lent, but I’m in a better place. I started doing small steps toward improvements a few years ago, and I was so happy with how I came closer to Christ and got rid of these bad habits which are displeasing to Christ that I continued my fast after Lent. Encouraged by this improvement, I did not want to stop and decided to continue working on my habit until Christmas so that I could hopefully root it out of my life. I did the same after Christmas so that by the time the next Lenten season began, I chose something else and work on. We don’t have to stop at the end of Lent if we want to continue to improve.
Choose whatever keeps you from Christ:
- laziness or sloth
- social media
- lack of discipline toward prayer, etc.
Whatever your struggle or addiction is, that is what you need to work on.
Maybe you don’t pray at all. That is what you need to work on. You need to develop a good prayer life every single day during Lent. Whether it is the Rosary, Bible, reading Liturgy of the Hours, whatever you need to have a good relationship with Jesus Christ, that is what you should focus on. Jesus doesn’t want you to give up candy or coffee. If you don’t have a prayer life, He would much rather you have a prayer life and have a good relationship with Him than to give up candy or coffee. He would much rather have you work on not gossiping or work on your controlling your temper by not yelling at your kids all the time rather than giving up chocolate your favorite sweet or soda or something like that.
Those small denials aren’t necessarily bad. However, your relationship with Him and your abiding His will are infinitely more important than fasting from treats. While fasting can help us to receive His Grace, every time we find ourselves craving that coffee, or whatever we have given up, we can consciously resolve to offer it up to Christ, who gave us the ultimate sacrifice, in order for the change to be more Christ-like and grow closer to Jesus. For this reason, giving up things is good. It creates a discipline. However, working on your new disciplined habit so that you grow closer to Him is equally as, if not more, important.
When Jesus went out into the desert, He was free already from everything. Yet he went out there and completely emptied himself for the Father. He completely gave Himself to the Father in prayer and in fasting. That is what we need to do, too. Look at your life. Sit down tonight. Really take time to sit down and say, what is keeping me from God? What is that obstacle or that block in your life that is preventing you from coming closer to God. Perhaps you will realize that you watch a lot of TV and then don’t have time to pray. Or maybe you listen to music all the time and the distraction keeps you from thinking of God, takes away time to help others, to serve the poor or do other things that God calls me to do. Maybe your distractions keep you from calling your family or building actual relationships, which is why we’re on this earth in the first place.
There are many things in everyone’s lives that people struggle with or from which we have developed bad habits. This Lent your call is to empty yourself, to give up things that are obstacles to your spiritual life and to give yourself more to Jesus. Throw yourself into it completely. Think of it this way: if you were going to die at the end of Lent, would you be ready? If you’re going to die tonight, would you be ready? And suppose in this scenario God gave you 40 more days to live. What would you want to work on in those 40 days to make sure that you would come closer to Christ and overcome those things that are obstacles to salvation? What do you need to work on so you could come to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and be worthy of going to go to Heaven?
Don’t Trade Out
Remember, the goal is moderation working toward success. I am not saying necessarily give up all your music. I am not saying give up Netflix, TV and entertainment throughout all of Lent. While you certain can, the goal is success. So, if success means to give up music three or four days a week, or if it means we allowed ourselves to watch movies or Netflix only three days a week, you are more likely to succeed than cutting these out completely. Granted, do not replace one addiction with another by saying “I can not watch Netflix tonight, so I am just going to go spend all night online watching YouTube videos.” No, do not replace one addiction with another. Commit to giving up these things and build a better habit. Builders building relationships, so spend quality time talking to other by having game nights with your family, going out to eat, or perhaps making a night where you find a church that has confession and go to confession together, or spend time trying to come closer to God, praying the Stations of the Cross, etc.
Make this your best Lent ever. Make this Lent amazing!