The timing of Lent is perfect. It usually begins sometime in February, not long after our New Year’s resolutions have failed and our motivation to reach new goals has fizzled out. The thing about Lent is that it’s only 40 days long—I can do almost anything for 40 days. And if I make a mistake, I haven’t failed and ruined what was finally going to be the year of PERFECTION. I know the Lord will forgive me and let me try again.
Ultimately, Lent isn’t about giving things up and showing the Lord how much we can do and impressing Him with our fasting. Lent is a time, after the craziness of Christmas and the New Year, before the holiest of holidays, to do some training in spiritual disciplines, to silence the noise and distractions that surround us, and to let God draw near to us as we draw near to Him.
Over the years, as I’ve more deeply understood the purpose of this season, my Lenten disciplines have changed. In middle school, I gave up things I “loved” to show God that I loved him: pop, chocolate, AIM (remember that?). In college, I tended to give up the same sorts of things, but with a different heart. I learned what it really meant to fast from something—to let my desire for the given up thing drive me toward God in prayer. But more often than not, Lent just felt like a diet, an exercise of my willpower. I noticed no lasting change or spiritual growth. I didn’t feel closer to God at the end of 40 days.
For the first time in my life, I’m taking a behavior-replacement approach to Lenten disciplines. Instead of thinking of something I love that I can give up, I’m starting from the question, How do I want to fix my gaze more steadily on Jesus?
I love solitude, quiet, even silence. It’s not awkward for me. But lately, I’ve been filling every waking moment with some sort of noise. Social media and email while brushing my teeth. Radio or Taylor Swift’s 1989 while I’m in the car (no shame here, friends). Podcasts while I cook. Netflix while Dan and I eat dinner. More social media while watching Gilmore Girls before we go to bed. (Dan watches it with me. I am the luckiest wife in all the land.)
For this Lenten season, my goal is to make more space for God’s Spirit. To relearn the sound of God’s voice in the silent moments so I can hear Him above every other voice in the noisy moments. To prioritize time to connect with Dan and build our marriage.
Once I knew what I wanted to add to my life, I could make wise decisions about which behaviors to subtract to achieve those goals. Here’s what I’ve decided to give up and add in for Lent 2015:
- I’m giving up sleeping past 5:30 a.m. (on weekdays) and adding in a devotional every morning. I connect best with God first thing in the morning, when everything is still, my apartment is dark, Dan is snoozing, and the coffee is fresh. I’m committing to waking up at 5:30 each morning to make time for a Lenten devotional. I’m using SheReadsTruth’s Lent plan, “Near the Cross.”
- I’m giving up music in the car and adding in silence and prayer. When I was a teacher, I used to devote my hour-long morning commute to prayer, and I’ve somehow fallen out of the habit. I’m giving up music during my time in the car to create silent space for prayer, meditation, reflection, and listening to the Lord. My caveat here is that I often use my afternoon commute to catch up with my mom or friends by phone, so I’m going to continue that habit because it helps me invest in relationships. But if I’m not on the phone in the afternoons, I’ll be chatting with Jesus. Please note that I totally stole this idea from Erin Taylor Green.
- I’m giving up distractions during dinner and adding in connected conversation with my husband. Dan and I recently (ahem, just this week) started doing no-TV-and-cell-phones-with-dinner Mondays. (We need a catchier name. Please help.) You guys, we really love Netflix. And I don’t think this is such a terrible thing. I don’t feel the need to be talking to Dan about my feelings all the time. We bond over our favorite shows, and we love to laugh together after a long day. But since he works most weekends, we’ve noticed that we leave little space for conversation except when we’re driving somewhere together or out on a date. Our first TV-free dinner was so refreshing and left us feeling so connected that we decided to keep it up for each night of Lent.
- I’m giving up criticism and negativity and adding in love. You guys, I’m kind of the worst. I have more critical thoughts about myself and about others than I would ever want to admit. I like to pretend it’s just “venting,” but really, it’s ugliness. It’s sin. Every time I think a critical thought or open my mouth to complain, I’m going to turn to Christ and ask Him to show me how He sees things. I’m going to say—aloud or in my head—something I love about the person, a way I see the Lord working in her life, or something I am grateful for about the situation. I’m not trying to be a cheesy super-optimist about everything and everyone. But I believe that when we take our actions captive, our thoughts and hearts will follow suit. If I replace my negativity with love, I’ll be a much more pleasant person to be around. Negative people are exhausting, and I’m done being one of them.
I’m not planning to go back to the way things were as soon as Lent is over, unlike the way I swan dive into a piece of cake when I finish a Whole 30. I truly hope that these practices will develop stronger muscles in my faith, that prayer will become more like breathing, and that connection with the Lord and with Dan will be something I crave more than the next episode of Parks and Rec or a few extra minutes of sleep. I’m chasing after real, hard-won spiritual growth.