One year when I was a kid, my mom gave my brother and I a heads up that Lent was around the corner. She was surprised and a worried when we were super excited that the season was coming up soon. Living in south Louisiana, Lent coincided with crawfish season, and every Friday night was pretty much the furthest thing from sacrifice you could possibly imagine. Naturally, we kids were pumped! In his homily for Ash Wednesday one year, our parish priest said that considering our substitutes for meat in Cajun territory, it would be a far greater sacrifice to chow down on a ham sandwich in lieu of ettouffe.
That year, my mom introduced tuna pasta on Lenten Fridays and needless to say my brother and I weren’t nearly as excited about Lent the following years.
For the longest time after that, Lent was a season I dreaded. I wrongly focused on the negative, that I had to “give something up.”
Not long ago, the Holy Spirit decided to shake me up because I realized that that’s not what Lent is about at all. Lent is about shifting my focus and making room for God. Life goes through seasons, and the Church wisely realized that we human beings need a time that we buckle down and focus on our relationship with God, making an honest evaluation of where we are in that relationship and where the opportunities are for growth.
And that’s why we get the big 3 in Lent: praying, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer, obviously, the communication side; fasting, where we let go of something in order to make room for something better; and alsmgiving, where we express gratitude for the limitless ways God has blessed us.
If you’re stuck on how to prepare for Lent this year, I wanted to share some ideas for how you can approach these three in a practical way and make this Lent a fruitful one.
There are many prayer regimens available, but the key – and this is huge – is to make a prayer regimen that is realistic for your station in life. For the past few years, I decided to incorporate Scripture, and it has proven incredibly doable and edifying. I choose a book of the bible and read through it a couple different ways: choosing a shorter book to read quickly the first week, underlining passages then using those passages as daily reflections for the rest of Lent; or going through a longer book a chapter a day. I’m always surprised by what the Lord shows me when I go through a book in it’s entirety. Whatever prayer you decide to incorporate, make it simple and do it consistently!
Click here to read through the Song of Solomon with my own Lenten Reflections.
When it comes to fasting or finding something to give up, it’s important that you don’t just give something up and create a void. The whole point of taking something out of your life is to make room for something better. Lent is a time where we proactively and intentionally refocus on God, and before we decide what we give up, it is helpful to identify the areas that distract us from God. If we only discard earthly things without replacing them with Heavenly ones, it will be incredibly easy to give up the giving up. Don’t just say, “I’m giving up social media”, unless you also say, “so I can play with my kids” or “so I can say a decade of the rosary” or “so I can read and reflect on today’s Gospel.” Fasting for fasting’s sake doesn’t make us saints.
We tend to think of money when we think of alms, but it is so much more than that. If money’s a little tight, you can still give alms in the form of time by volunteering in your parish, at a crisis pregnancy center, or by signing up for regular adoration. You can even fix meals for your parish priests, or adopt a seminarian by cooking or paying his gas bill for a month. Whatever you prayerfully decide, almsgiving should come from a heart of gratitude in recognition of the abundant ways God has blessed you and the ways you can pour out those blessings to others.
One Final Thought.
As we think about these ascetic practices in a different way, they help us think about Lent in an entirely different way. While we are only asked to adopt these practices during the 40 days of Lent as a way to prepare for the Easter feast, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to thinking so short term. It takes about 21 days to form a habit, and Lent is therefore an opportunity for us to make practical changes to our spiritual routines that carry beyond Good Friday.