The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there. . . . Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:12, 18)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights. . . (Matthew 4:1-2)
Ash Wednesday is just around the corner, and I’m wondering what spiritual practice I might do for Lent. If you are like me, you have experienced various Lenten penances related to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving over the course of your life. Some of my experiences produced quality spiritual growth. Other times I failed to follow through or had results that were, um, a little “silly” (such as the time I gave up potato chips and ate so many chocolate chip cookies that I actually gained weight during Lent).
One spiritual practice that has been meaningful for me is reflecting on a single word, phrase, or bible verse for the whole 40 days. For example, one year I focused on the virtue of patience. I read about patience and pondered what patience is and what patience is not (laziness or procrastination). I asked God in prayer to help me be patient. When life brought me annoying moments, I tried to be patient.
One possible pitfall of this theme approach is that I might forget to follow through for the entire 40 days, but I have found ways around that. I can post my theme in places I’ll see it, such as the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, computer screen saver or cell phone banner. I can find a book on the topic and spend a few minutes each day reading about it. I can make it a point to weave my theme into prayer time and the routine of daily living. On occasion, I’ve asked spiritual people what they think about the topic.
When making plans for Lent, it’s important—as always—to ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your choices. (Why do I always think of this tip last? It should be first!) The “theme approach” may not be for everyone. Think about what will build your relationship with God, and what will deeper your love for others.
May all we do glorify God and build bonds of love throughout the earth. Until next time, Amen!
Spiritual Aerobics for Lent
If focusing on a theme doesn’t appeal to you, here are 13 other ideas:
- Volunteer at a food pantry, homeless shelter, or other charitable organization.
- Plan quality time with your children: eat together, use discussion starters, read together.
- Organize recycling in your home in order to take care of God’s creation.
- Visit a lonely or homebound person.
- Reduce the amount of time spent with television, social networking, internet surfing, or video gaming.
- Listen to inspiring, spiritual music while commuting to work.
- Care for the body God gave you by increasing your sleep or exercise.
- Read one book of the bible or other spiritual book slowly and reflectively.
- Sort out closets and donate clothing to those who need it.
- Teach your children a new prayer and pray it together when you gather for meals.
- Be kind to someone you often ignore. Pray each day for him or her. Smile genuinely and listen respectfully to this person.
- Fast from shopping for clothes (or books, electronic gadgets, makeup, etc.)
- Visit a retreat center. If you cannot go away on a retreat just now, make arrangements to go on retreat later this year.