Every year, it does it. Sneaks up on me like I can't read a calendar, can't remember that it's coming, it's coming, it's here, so soon after Christmas and yet not soon enough for my mind to have not wandered back into the mundane, away from the great mystery of birth, death, resurrection, Emmanuel.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. We will light the candles each day, spiraling our way towards Easter. This year I will put aside the one thing that consumes too much of my time and spend it more intentionally, deliberately, and fruitfully, the continual desire of this journey I am walking.
Perhaps this season of inward preparation has caught you unawares as well? Busy with the daily and feeling like thinking about one more thing is simply too much right now? If it helps you, let me offer these ten ideas for observing Lent, my small contribution to the many great lists written by others.
1. Fast. Abstain from one thing to practice self-denial, to focus more clearly on the season, and to anticipate the joyous Easter celebration. Meat, sugar, chocolate. Internet, television, social media. Yelling, gossiping, complaining. In determining your one thing, consider whether there are any areas of imbalance in your life that might be helped through a specific sort of fast.
2. Add a spiritual discipline to your daily routine. Take a silent walk, study a book of the Bible, meditate on a portion of Scripture, confess, worship, or spend more time in focused prayer for others and for the world. Consider praying the Daily Office; make it even easier with the iPray Book of Common Prayer app.
3. Read a daily Lent devotional. Excellent options include the book Bread And Wine: Readings For Lent And Easter, the Bible plan Lent for Everyone by N. T. Wright, and the Lent devotional by Ann at A Holy Experience.
4. Include the kids. Follow a Jesus Storybook Bible Easter reading plan. Colour a Lenten calendar. Create an Easter Tree. Grow grass on Calvary Hill.
5. Declutter your physical surroundings. Cluttered physical surroundings can often sap us mentally and spiritually as well. Use these forty days to go through closets, storage spaces, drawers, bookshelves, cupboards, stacks, and cabinets to get rid of what is no longer useful or beautiful to you.
6. Give. Whether giving time (through service and volunteer work) or money, use this season to bless and serve those in need around you. Consider joining the 40 Days of Water campaign to help raise money for clean water in Uganda.
7. Practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal open on the counter to jot in throughout the day, or write down three gifts before going to bed each night. Express gratitude to others through words, cards, letters, or little notes.
8. Perform a daily random act of kindness. Pay for someone's meal. Send an unexpected letter. Drop off a plate of cookies. Slip a gift card in the hand of someone who could use it. Need some ideas? Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
9. Begin with an Ash Wednesday service. Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist churches typically hold an Ash Wednesday service, although the practice is spreading throughout other denominations as well. Mark this first day of Lent with confession and repentance.
10. Reduce Internet and/or computer use, spending the extra time with family, friends, and God instead.
If you feel comfortable sharing, how will you be observing this Lenten season?