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What to Give Up for Lent

Guideposts blogger Rick Hamlin offers some alternatives to the usual practice of giving something up for Lent.

Lent imagery; Getty Images
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Lent’s not so far away, coming up on February 10, and I can hear someone ask me with all the kindest intentions, “What are you going to give up this year?” I understand what’s behind that question, but instead of answering it straight out, let me ask back, “Why give up anything?”

What are we commemorating at Lent anyway?

Traditionally, Lent is the penitential season in the Christian calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. It is 40 days long, not including the Sundays, and people often dedicate the time leading up to Easter to some practice of renunciation or fasting. Sundays aren’t included because Sundays are considered feast days, mini-celebrations of the Resurrection of Easter.

Why 40 days? Forty is one of those magical Biblical numbers, like the 40 days and 40 nights it rained during the flood or the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert before they reached the Promised Land. Forty is a number associated with a time of trial.

Deepen Your Faith with These Guideposts Books for Lent! 

Specifically, Lent commemorates the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, after he was baptized by John and before he began his ministry. It was his own time of trial, after which he was tempted by the devil.

Okay, you can see how the tradition began of fasting during this period–skipping a meal a day or giving up sweets and chocolates or not eating cheese, as my son did one year. But what about that other part of the narrative–wandering in the wilderness, away from people, demands, the usual routine?

Let me suggest this as Lenten practice: Give yourself some desert time. What little habit can you try that will take you out of the routine? How can you be, somehow, alone with God?

I know someone who gives up worry at Lent. Quite frankly, that would be harder for me than giving up ice cream and chocolates. It’s hard for her too, but what a wonderful spiritual practice. To give worry a rest, she needs to give her worries over to God, again and again.

What about a prayer practice that will give you some desert time? For an extrovert like me who loves being around people, the practice of praying by myself, away from the busyness of my days, is a wilderness zone.

No, I’ve never been asked by Satan, like Jesus was, to turn stones into bread or be told to jump off a pinnacle without any bungy cord or to be given the chance to rule the world. But a desert time, for me, is a chance to remind myself, like Jesus, just whom I trust, who my God is.

So next time someone asks you what you’re doing for Lent…tell them that you’re going to give yourself a little bit of wilderness time. Let them guess just how you’re going to do that. We all have our just deserts.

Looking for a way to observe Lent and deepen your relationship with God? Join our Lenten Prayer Program and receive daily encouragement for your spiritual journey.

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