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 very surprised and a little worried when we were both 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 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 so long ago, I guess 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 have some ideas on how to approach these three that I hope will make this a fruitful Lent!
There are so many prayer regimens you can set up and dive into, but the key – and this is huge – is to make a prayer regimen that is realistic for your station in life. We have to remember that God would prefer us to pray one Hail Mary daily and fervently than a whole rosary muttered once every blue moon. Our Catholic faith gives us so many rich options for prayers, but I like to incorporate Scripture this time of year. For the past few years, I choose a book of the bible and read through it several different ways: quickly at the beginning, underlining passages and using those passages as daily reflections for the rest of Lent; or going through the book a chapter a day or week (if it’s a shorter book you could do several). I’m always surprised by what the Lord shows me when I go through a book in it’s entirety. You could also practice Lectio Divina with the daily readings. Whatever it is, make it simple and do it consistently!
(If you need some accountability, I will be going through the Song of Solomon this Lent, and will have reflections on my Instagram page. If you need to be reminded of how much God loves you, I’d love to have you join me there!)
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 point of taking something out of your life is as I’ve said to make room for something better. Lent is a time where we proactively and intentionally refocus our eyes on 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 I challenge you to get creative with this one this year. 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 I’d like to share. Lent is 40 days long, but what you do during Lent doesn’t have to end at Easter. A quick Google search and I discovered it takes about 21 days to form a habit. That means you’ve got almost double that time to radically and beautifully find ways to practically add God to your life for a good while to come.