Lent starts this week on Ash Wednesday and many people, myself included, may inadvertently get flashbacks to years gone by with having to give up sweets, chocolate or crisps (while in school anyway) and collecting for Trócaire Boxes. But is this really how we should be remembering Lent? Just as a period of self-denial? Or should we be looking at it differently? I think we should.
This year Lent runs for the “40 days” (not in actuality, it’s really more like 43) between Ash Wednesday on March 1st to Holy (or Maundy) Thursday on April 13th and culminates with Easter Sunday on April 16th.
While many Christians use Lent to try and imitate Jesus Christ when, according to Matthew 4:2, He “fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished” (NRSVA). While giving things up for Lent works for some people, it doesn’t work for everyone.
Over the past few years for Lent I have tried taking something up for Lent, so in effect, I have given up giving up for Lent. This could be something spiritual such as trying daily prayer, something personal like making space for yourself in a busy life, or something for the community by volunteering your time & talents.
Taking up Prayer for Lent does not mean you have to go to church. Prayer is about creating space for you and your belief, whatever they may be. It can be anywhere where you give yourself the time and permission to stop, reflect and be. For me I do most of my prayers on the bus while on my daily commute. If this sort of unstructured prayer would be hard for you there are loads of apps out there to help.
One app I have tried recently is from TryPraying.co.uk. This app gives you something to read and reflect on, a video of someone talking about their personal experience of prayer, words to think about and a prayer each day for seven days to get you in the rhythm of prayer.
Lent is also an opportunity to do something for yourself. I was chatting to a few friends recently about Lent and they had some great ideas for themselves for Lent. One was giving up wine, one was going back to the Gym and living more healthily, another was going to quit Facebook for Lent and one was going to quit smoking. Other ideas for you to consider are to treat yourself during Lent by giving you ‘Me Time’, that opportunity to stop and just be, let life go by on your schedule and not constantly running on someone else’s (but still keeping up with work and study). This could be time spent at the gym, out walking, or reading a good book for enjoyment. Whatever it is, it should be for you and help you be more you!
Just taking time out during Lent could be good for you. This could be taking a weekend out to chill and have coffee with friends and family, or it could be a weekend away on retreat, or just an opportunity to visit somewhere new and learn from new experiences.
Doing something in the Community for Lent is another option, this could be getting involved in the local Tidy Towns, which will be swinging into gear now that the weather is getting (somewhat) warmer, or could be helping one of the myriad of amazing community organisations up and down the country who are in need of people to give generously of their time and talents. Some examples include charities or causes you personally support & believe in, or groups like ReImagine Cork. You could also get involved in fundraising during Lent – while Trócaire and Christian Aid both run Lenten campaigns to encouraging giving, there is bound be a local or national charity event running during Lent that appeals to you. This is your opportunity to get involved and support them.
If you want to do something to help the wider community, and the world at large, you could try doing a Carbon Fast for Lent. This is an idea promoted by Green Anglicans and other ecumenical organisations to try and mitigate the effect we as individuals have on the planet and its climate. Lent gives us the space and the opportunity to live more simply and try and reduce our impact on the climate. You can download a Lenten Calendar from GreenAnglicans.org.
So why not join me this Lent and ‘give up giving up’ and take something up to benefit you, your community or even the planet. Whatever you do, I wish you a peaceful and blessed Lent.