Lent is right around the corner. Can you believe it’s only one week away? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably thrown out a few thoughts here and there as to what might be a good Lenten sacrifice for you. Perhaps your love for pizza is out of control. Maybe you can’t ever put down that phone. It could be that you curse too much, watch too much smutty TV, or have an unnatural love for your after-dinner glass of wine. Whatever it may be, perhaps your thinking of using Lent as your next big opportunity to become a better version of yourself and to break those or other bad habits that you’ve unfortunately developed.
If so, you’ve already got a great starting point for discovering what you should be giving up for Lent. This is what I’ve always done in the past. However, in the past couple of years I’ve also been challenged to deepen my understanding of what Lent is all about. As a result it’s become one of my favorite liturgical seasons. These last couple of years I’ve taken the opportunity to grow closer to the Lord, and carefully listen to what He wants for my life instead of assuming that I know everything about how I should be growing. In other words, I began praying about Lent!
Last year, my thoughts on what I should be sacrificing were totally different than what I found God asking me to give up for Lent. When I actually sat down and prayed about it, He lead me to something that was definitely out of the ordinary (read more about that here), but proved to be exactly what I needed.
With that said, here are 5 things to consider before Lent begins:
Consider entering into Lent with a prayerful mindset, now. It can be really easy to avoid thinking about your Lenten sacrifices until Ash Wednesday, but my advice is to begin praying about it now. Don’t put it off. If you put off making a decision until Lent begins, you will hurriedly decide on something that may or may not help you grow, and may also choose something which proves to be incredibly difficult and therefore unfruitful.
Remember, whenever Jesus entered into difficult moments in his life, he always prayed before he began.
Before entering into the desert of Lent, try praying these words (or something similar) to help you develop the proper, prayerful attitude:
Remember why we are called to Fast, Pray, and Give Alms. In Mark 12:28-34, Jesus reminds us that the Greatest Commandment is twofold: we are called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength as well as to love our neighbors as ourselves. Lent is more than just figuring out our bad habits and trying overcome them. (Though that is definitely a good thing.) It’s a time of preparation, purification, and enlightenment. During Lent we are called to daily reflect on the blessings we are given in Easter and to prepare ourselves for entering into the new life that Jesus offers us. In order to do this, we must live out God’s Commandment to love him above all and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
This is why we are invited to pray, give alms, and fast.
Praying and giving alms are spiritually tied to the Great Commandment. Prayer is our response to God–a “surge of the heart” (as St. Therese of Lisieux says)–in which we grow deeper in love with him, come to better understand his will for our lives, and strengthen our faith. We give alms (i.e. perform acts of charity for others), in order to grow in love for our neighbor. (This includes our family and friends, as well as strangers, and in particular the poor and sick.) Praying and giving alms moves us away from focus on the self. It extends us outward in love towards God and our fellow man.
Our third call, to fast, is more than just giving up bad habits. It’s the way in which God teaches us to mortify our bodily and spiritual senses through sacrifice. When we fast from food, we train our bodies, and when we train our bodies, our spirits are simultaneously strengthened. When we abstain from certain goods, we remind ourselves that God is the supreme Good, and everything else that is sweet, wonderful, and fulfilling should be properly ordered under him. He alone is the true source of the everlasting happiness we desire. When we work to weed out vices, we train our souls to our proper disposition, away from things that bring us down and towards the Good which raises us up.
When thinking about what you will do for Lent, keep these things in mind.
Reflect on the areas in your life that are in need of growth. With regards to your prayer life, in what ways are you being called to grow in your commitment and love for the Lord? If you don’t have much of a prayer life at all, commit at least fifteen minutes a day to prayer. If, upon reflection, you realize you don’t really know Jesus intimately, make it a priority to read one or more of the Gospels during lent, or spend an hour a week in the adoration chapel. If it’s your spiritual fortitude that needs strengthening, read daily about the lives of the saints. Their witness just may be the inspiration you need to dive deeper in your commitment to the Lord. You can also commit to a daily rosary, an extra Mass a week, or to praying the Divine Mercy chaplet once a day. There are many different things you can do to commit yourself to growing in your life of prayer.
When it comes to giving alms, ask yourself where you could grow in love for others. This could even start right in your very home. Sometimes we overlook the needs of other family members that are right in front of us. Would intentional time with your spouse, children, or other family members be beneficial for their needs? There are so many little adjustments we can make in order to prioritize those we love over ourselves, such as putting a halt to excessive and unnecessary use of technology, shutting off the TV and having an intimate conversation with another, or merely just by focusing on being present when those you love are in your midst. Ask the Lord to reveal to you the areas that you struggle with, and make sacrifices and give of yourself accordingly.
Finally, with regards to fasting, remember to make it intentional with relation to the Great Commandment. I think our first instinct is always to go straight to the fasting part during Lent. It’s instinctual because it is personal–we all desire to become better versions of ourselves. However, I think fasting is only truly penitential when we place it within the proper framework. Taking the time to examine the ways in which we can grow in love of God and neighbor will leave us better suited to choose sacrifices that will be truly fruitful. This way our sacrifices will be properly ordered, be it the giving up of bread, cheese, pizza, fast food (or whatever else we can think of).
Once you make a prayerful decision, write it down. Writing things down helps us commit. When you write down your resolutions, also take the time to write down the reasons you feel God is calling you to this particular penance. Then, in your own words, write out a prayer that you can return to during the forty day duration. It could be something as simple as this: “Lord, this Lent I resolve to devote 15 minutes a day to prayer, I will work hard to be intentional with my family and serve at least 2 days at a soup kitchen, and I will try my best to sacrifice pizza, because I love it, but I love you more. On Easter, may I glorify you with my mind, heart, body and soul. Amen.” Something like that! Write your own!
If you fail, don’t give up. When people fail to follow through with resolutions–especially when they are spiritual resolutions–the response is to retreat. It is so much easier to give up after failing than it is to pick yourself back up and try again.
My advice: pray through your failures. Thematic to Lent is humanity’s weakness. We are sinful, broken, weak creatures, and though we are called to perfection, we are not called to perfection without the aid of God. We simply cannot be all and do all on our own; we’ll ultimately fail at it.
Still, our failures can become a big sign to us of our personal dependence on God.
When you forget and eat meat on Friday, or when you don’t quite make it through forty, twenty, or even ten days without failing in your Lenten promises…don’t give up.
Don’t pity yourself or wallow in your weakness.
Offer your weakness to God, ask for his help, and try again.
I hope you take the time to reflect on the ways God is calling you to grow this Lenten season. It’s a wonderful opportunity for a spiritual tune up, and I can’t wait to celebrate that growth in the Lord when Easter comes this April!
What have you decided to do this Lent? Do you have any additional advice? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comment below!
Linked below are a few related posts I’ve written on the topic of Lent, as well as some of my favorite resources to utilize for prayer during Lent:
If you follow me on email and you received this post twice, it is because my sonny published my writing without my consent. (Apparently, he has much more confidence in my unedited writing than I do in myself! Haha.) Though I was initially mad, I’m deciding to take it as a moment to gain some humility. If you read the first draft, you were able to see a bit of my process before the editing begins, and able to get a feel for the challenges I face when writing from home! Though often difficult, totally worth it!
Thank you so much for reading!