Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. If you are unfamiliar with just what Lent is and what it’s all about, it is a season within the liturgical churches that precedes Easter. It lasts 40 days, and does not “count” Sundays, as each Sunday is seen as a “little Easter.” The focus of Lent is prayer and meditation, fasting, and giving. To observe Lent is an exercise in intentional living at its highest – every day you are reminded of how you live your life, and how you could probably be doing a better job at living it. Even the color of the season of Lent – purple – is to remind us of Christ’s royalty, His Kingship over our lives. Some of the “restrictions” of Lent – no “alleluias” in song, prayer or liturgy, no meat on Fridays, “giving up” something for Lent – serve as reminders that while Easter, and each Sunday’s “little Easter” is a joyous occasion of celebration of Christ’s victory over death, and our victory through Him, the arrest in Gethsemane, appearing before Pilate and the Pharisees, the beating and crown of thorns, and the darkness of Good Friday had to come first. Christ had to suffer before he could celebrate. And so must we, even if it’s only symbolically. So, that’s what Lent is all about.
A Different Kind of Lent
I’d like to propose something a little different for your Lenten observation this year. Instead of just giving up one thing, instead of just committing to prayer, instead of one act of giving or charity, you try to find something daily. That’s right. Find 40 different things to focus your prayers on, or 40 different ways of praying. Decide on 40 different “fasts” – something new each day. And find 40 ways to give – even if it’s just to your loved ones. Giving is the most overlooked aspect of Lent, in my opinion. Everyone is so happy to tell of what they’ve given up, what new insights on prayer they’ve found, but few ever tell you of what they’ve given back. Few devotionals focus on the giving, the sacrifices – large and small – made on behalf of others. To me, perhaps the charities we show others should be the most important part, because they really show that we are focused on more than ourselves, our little lives. Intentional living plays a big part of Lent, too, as you have to focus on how you go about each day. To help you figure out these whole Lent thing, here’s a list of my Lenten observations. Some I’ve borrowed from others, some are inventions of my own.
Lenten Observations – The First Two Weeks
Day 1: Pray: The paper (Use the top stories and people in the news as focus for your prayers.) Fast: Just drink water today. No soda, no coffee, no tea, nothing but water. Give: Choose a local charity or cause and set up a “family fund” to which you can all contribute throughout the Lenten season.
Day 2: Pray: Spend 5 minutes in silence at noon. No prayer, no meditation, no contemplation, just silence. Fast: Spend the day in quiet – no headphones and mp3 player, no radio or tv in the background, no Pandora while you work. Just quiet. Give: Use only soft, kind voices today. When the kids drive you mad, reprimand in a whisper. Instead of calling across the room or the house, go to them and quietly speak to them, or signal them to come to you.
Day 3: Pray: Read Psalm 139. Fast: Invest in canvas shopping bags, and actually use them as you do your weekly shopping and errands. Give: Plant some herbs, or a container garden of some kind. Plant enough pots to share with friends and family.
Day 4: Pray: Pray for your enemies and the folks you really don’t like, get along with well, or who get on your nerves. Fast: No gossiping or “sharing” about anyone, at all, today. Give: Write a note of encouragement to someone who is a source of aggravation in your life, or to someone you just don’t see eye to eye with much. Make it real and genuine and actually give it or send it to them.
Sunday: “little Easter” – Plan your Easter celebrations – church services, clothes, menus, guest lists, everything. Spend the day focusing on the celebrations to come.
Day 1: Pray: Find the Divine in the dirty dishes today. Pray as you go about your work, asking blessings on those for whom you toil. Fast: Turn off the tv today. No news, no kids’ shows, no evening programs. Spend the time reading or crafting or being together as a family. Give: Fix a really nice dinner. Set the “good dishes” and light some candles. Maybe some flowers or cloth napkins. Go all out for your family tonight. Monday doesn’t have to mean chicken nuggets and salad, and even if it does, you can still make a “do” of the occasion.
Day 2: Pray: Give a major concern or worry to God. Just give it up. Let Him take it. And don’t take it back. Fast: No complaining. None. Give: A smile and a kind word to everyone – friend, stranger, neighbor, guy who cuts you off in traffic, kid who gets on your last nerve.
Day 3: Pray: The Prayer of St. Francis Fast: Give up nagging and complaining. Be a peacemaker today, even if it hurts. Give: Extend a peace offering. Call someone you’ve been avoiding. Invite them for lunch, dinner, or a cup of tea one afternoon.
Day 4: Pray: After your kids are in bed, spend a few moments beside them, in prayerful gratitude. Let them hear you thank Heaven for them. Fast: Give up all your extra reading today. Scripture, school, work – allowed. Books, magazines, newspapers, junk mail, forget it. Use the time to exercise, take a walk, or otherwise be active. Give: Collect books and magazines for donating to the local library or homeless shelter.
Day 5: Pray: Move your wedding band to your other hand. Every time you feel the difference, pray for your spouse and your marriage. Fast: Give up “in a minute” or “later” and attend to the situation immediately, even if it is something trivial. Give them your full attention and time. Give: Plan a date night for you and your spouse for tonight or tomorrow. Keep it, no matter what.
Day 6: Pray: Give thanks for the necessities that God has given you – home, food, clothing. Fast: Give up all the “extras” today – dessert, tv, computer, jewelry, makeup – and just go with the essentials. Give: Donate clothing to a local women’s or homeless shelter. They don’t even have the essentials.
Sunday: “little Easter” – Start working on your pans from last week. Do you need new clothes, try out a recipe or two, make invitations, decorations, reservations, etc.
We’ll cover the next two weeks next Tuesday, so watch and observe Lent along with us here at Homeschooling on the Cheap.