The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of Christ’s passion and resurrection known now as Holy Week and Easter. It became the custom to prepare for that time during a season of extended penitence and fasting now known as Lent. It lasted forty days – not counting Sundays – and was a time set aside for renewal, repentance, and faithfulness. It was a time, too, for reconciliation and restoration of fellowship for those estranged from the community, and a time of Baptism for those newly committed to the faith.
These days, Lent is most closely associated with the idea of fasting, often fasting from something we enjoy in order to call to mind Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Recently, there has also been an emphasis on using the time to pick up a practice, a spiritual discipline such as reading a daily devotional, in order to draw ourselves nearer to God.
Take the opportunity this season of Lent to try something new or perhaps return to a practice you’ve fallen away from. Here are twenty ideas:
- Make a commitment to read the scripture lessons before Sunday. At GPBC, we typically use readings from the Revised Common Lectionary in worship, and the specific sermon text is posted on our website as well as listed in the previous Sunday’s Worship Guide. Familiarizing yourself with the readings ahead of time will help you experience them in a deeper way on Sunday.
- Attend a worship service outside your tradition. You might visit Richmond Hill on a Tuesday for their Community Worship, or the Celtic Evensong service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal on a Sunday evening. Both services are at 5:30 PM.
- Pray for somebody. As you’re walking the streets, driving the highways, or sitting in your cubicle at work, pick out a person and pray for them. Be mindful of the words of philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
- Sign up for a silent retreat or spend time in silent meditation. If you haven’t spent much time with silent meditation, start small – perhaps 5 minutes – and see if you can work your way up to an hour by the end of Lent. Set a timer so you don’t have to keep checking the time!
- “Fast” from discretionary spending. Think about what you usually spend your money on. Do you buy too many clothes? Spend too much on dinner out? Pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and then give the money you would usually spend to a local charity.
- Enjoy some old-school communication — 40 days of letter writing or phone calls to the important people in your life. Spend time telling them why you appreciate them. You will not be the only beneficiary of this practice!
- When you first sit down in front of your computer at work, or at the very end of your workday, try a 10-minute guided prayer from Sacred Space based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. Or, try the “Pray as you Go” podcast from the Jesuits in Britain. Listen on their website, subscribe in iTunes, or download their app (App Store, Google Play).
- Actually, the Pray as You Go podcast deserves its own bullet. It is a great podcast to listen to during your commute each day or as you take your daily walk. (Plus, the UK accents are kinda fun, I have to admit.)
- Go to a weekday prayer service one day during the week. Richmond Hill offers prayers for Metropolitan Richmond three times a day at 7 AM, Noon, and 6 PM. St. Paul’s Episcopal Lenten series occurs every Wednesday at noon and is followed by a yummy lunch available for purchase. (Richmond Hill will serve you lunch after their Thursday noon prayers, too.)
- Set a recurring alarm each day to remind you to pause and lift up a prayer.
- Read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting. As the shortest Gospel, it is the most concise story of Jesus’ life, and the cross, a central Lenten symbol, plays an even more prominent role than in the other Gospels. (
- Unplug from your iPhone or turn off your car radio on your commute. The silence may be jarring at first, but you may find that you are able to concentrate better and will be more observant of your surroundings. (You might use it as a time to work in #3 on this list. Just keep your eyes open as you pray.)
- Buy a book of daily reflections and keep it by your bed.
- The church has free copies available of the Lenten Devotional booklet published each year by Westminster Canterbury. Pick one up any Sunday.
- Presyberians for Earth Care has published a weekly devotional guide (a PDF you can download and print or access online) that focuses on the testimony of creation.
- While written for students, d365 provides a daily devotional that encourages all ages to pause, listen, think, pray, and go.
- Spend at least one weekend or evening volunteering during Lent. Visit the elderly. Stock shelves at a food pantry. Sign up to shop for our weekend backpack ministry. Sign up to provide dinner for Side by Side youth.
- Make a point to learn more about a particular social issue (immigration, human trafficking, racism, the environment, public education, child poverty). Identify a charity working to combat the issue and make a donation.
- Here’s a great list of ways to observe a lent where #blacklivesmatter.
- NETWORK, a social justice organization founded in 1971 by a group of Catholic sisters, produced a 21st Century Poverty Study Guide.
- The Interfaith Immigration Coalition offers Nine Immigration Themed Resources for Lent. Includes devotional and educational material.
- Tap into your creative side and try using coloring as a way to pray and meditate during Lent. Buy a coloring book or download a Lent calendar coloring page here.
- Pray for somebody. As you’re walking the streets, driving the highways, or sitting in your cubicle at work, pick out a person who appears to be in need and pray for that person. Be mindful of the words of philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
- Get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourself, plan a dinner, or bring food to an older person on your block.
- Use Busted Halo’s InstaLent Photo Challenge for daily, creative doses of Lenten spirituality. Post a photo each day and encounter the themes of Lent on a visual, personal level.
- Spend a few minutes a day journaling. It might be as simple as listing three things you are grateful for each day, or answering the question, “Where did I catch a glimpse of God today?” Those aren’t mutually exclusive!
And remember, you can start these at any time during Lent. Don’t think because you didn’t start at the beginning you have to wait until next year. (Shoot, this post didn’t even get published until the third day of Lent….)
Appreciation to Renée LaReau and her post “25 Great Things You Can do For Lent (besides giving up chocolate)” for the inspiration for this post and for several of the ideas listed.