Ash Wednesday is next week and I, for one, am excited for it! For a lot of people, Lent is about “giving up” something, such as candy, or coffee or whatever. Other people consider the penances of Lent a drudgery. That’s too bad. Lent isn’t about giving up something and then becoming frustrated – or giving up – when you fail. That’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for! Now, I’m not saying not to give up something for Lent. There is an important place for sacrifice and denial, but Lent is WAY more than that.
Lent is about renewal!
The beginning of a new year is a time when many people make resolutions to lose weight, to do “this” or don’t do “that.” August and September is the beginning of a new school year and a time when kids (and adults) resolve to make “this year better than last year.” Of course, technically, everyday is a chance for a restart. But Lent is unique. Lent is a time that is especially meant for a spiritual renewal, even more so than the Advent and Christmas Season. Lent is a time to recalibrate our souls and remind ourselves of what and WHO is important in life. And, it is a time to refocus and rekindle (or deepen) our relationship with Jesus and with the Blessed Trinity.
Therefore, the purpose of the “mandates” of Lent, prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving, is to help us go deeper into the truths of our faith and our relationship with Christ, NOT to give us yet “one thing to do or not do” for the next six weeks. Thus, I’d like to invite you to rethink your strategy for Lent this year. If you have been in the habit of giving up something for Lent and it hasn’t worked for ya, how about instead of giving up something, give yourself something. Here are five ideas of things you can give yourself for Lent:
1. Give yourself the gift of Confession.
If you haven’t been to the Sacrament of reconciliation in a while, now would be a good time to go. The Church requires Catholic to go to Confession at least once a year for a reason. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing and an opportunity to encounter Christ in a very special way.
There are a lot of people who are afraid of going to Confession or who think it is a waste of time. “Why go to confession to a priest when I can tell my sins right to God?” However, confession is a gift from God that gives us special graces, allows us to grow in grace and to come back to Him when we fail. I strongly encourage you to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church in regards to confession. Do the research on why Confession is important. It is really a very important sacrament!
2. Give yourself the gift of the Eucharist.
If you aren’t in the habit of going to daily mass, now would be a great time to start – even if it just one or two days a week – or just on Saturdays. The readings for Lent are just as powerful during the week as they are on Sundays.
There is a lot of focus today about the community aspect of Mass which is important. However, we also must never lose sight of the purpose of the Mass. It is the center and source of our Christian Life! When we receive communion, we receive Jesus Himself. We take Him into our souls and our hearts. What an amazing and profound blessing and gift that is!
3. Give yourself the gift of prayer.
The rosary is a particularly powerful prayer and it is a wonderful way to meditate on the mysteries of Our Lord’s Life, Death and Resurrection. It is even better if you can pray together as a family. Also, many Churches offer the Stations of the Cross each Friday which is a beautiful way to enter one’s self into Our Lord’s suffering. If you can’t do that, try to just spend a few minutes or so reading the Bible and Lectio Divina.
There are also a lot of retreats and devotional booklets that are published for the Lenten Season. If that helps, pick one of those up and use it to help guide your prayer. Better yet, scrap that and just talk to God as you would a friend. He is always ready to listen! It may seem strange at first but we can, and should, speak from our souls and pour out our heart.
4. Give yourself the gift of reflection.
Prayer isn’t all about talking! It is also about listening and reflecting on what God wants to tell us. One way to do this is by jounaling. When you journal, you can certainly write down your prayers. However, you can also write down notes, scriptures, and insights that you get during prayer. You can paste prayer cards and pictures, doodle, and make it your safe and private place of encountering God.
To help you do this, last year I created a Lenten Prayer Journal. It is an unguided prayer journal sprinkled with scripture verses from the Mass readings, blank pages, and a section for specific prayer intentions. It is my heart’s desire that the journal be a comforting and “magical” place for you to grow in your faith and love for God.
(P.S. From now until March 1, 2017 – Ash Wednesday – you can get the printable pdf. version of the journal for only $5, regularly $12. Go here to purchase and download instantly. Go here for a free sample of journal. Go here for the paperback version of the journal on Amazon.)
5. Give yourself the gift of intention.
Finally, above all – no matter what you do the Lent – let it be intentional and focused. Be fully present to your devotions, family or whatever it is you are doing or not doing for Lent. That alone will transform your Lenten experience!
So many of us, myself included, live life too reactionary. We don’t take the time to think things through because we are too busy rushing from activity to activity and responsibility to responsibility. This year, take a few minutes to look at your calendar. What can you delegate, reschedule or remove so that you can give yourself some breathing room and mental space?
Now, let’s support each other.
Tell me, what are you doing for Lent this year? What are you going to do or not do in order to truly deepen your relationship with Jesus and renew your spirit this season? By putting it out there, it will help you stay accountable and give me the opportunity to pray for you!
As for me, I am focusing on the Nineveh 90 challenge. We are only a week in and it is proving to be a challenging and yet powerful experience. It is definitely helping me to be more disciplined in certain areas, that’s for sure! I still may give up something specific on top of this but I haven’t decided yet. 🙂