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I admit it, I love any excuse for reflection. Or maybe just sitting still? Resting? Idk. Regardless, the season of Lent is one of my favorite spiritual traditions. But it can be hard to know quite how to participate. Trying to decide what to give up usually has me dizzy right up until Day 1.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Lent, it is approximately the 40 days between Mardis Gras and Easter, beginining on Ash Wednesday.

Lent can be an amazing period of contemplation and renewal. An opportunity to slow down and reevaluate your priorities.

It is traditionally associated with giving things up, a sacrifice made in honor of Christ’s fasting during his 40 days in the wilderness prior to the start of his earthly ministry.

The idea is by giving something up we are slowing down. Making room in our lives and hearts to spiritually prepare for Holy Week, culminating in Easter itself and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

However, giving things up isn’t the only way to observe Lent. Another way is to  put something new into practice, adding a habit or activity that asks us to be reflective in a different way. This year, I am going to add a practice of Praying in Color (see below).

Whether you choose to give up a habit or begin practicing a new one, the goal is to be more intentional with our behavior.  Lent is an opportunity to slow ourselves down and   reflect and evaluate our attitudes and our priorities.

As a habit, slowing down and being contemplative isn’t really valued in our western culture. Being busy and productive is the ideal, and is proof of our value in society and a measurement of our success.

In her lovely book The Next Right Thing, Emily P. Freeman writes: the world is run by worn-out people, and our soul is often lost beneath the piles of our everyday life.

Lent invites us to a change of mindset, writes Pope Francis in his Message for Lent. An opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities and the person we are becoming.

To clarify, you don’t need to give up something AND begin something new! Some people simply adopt one or the other habit more easily. Here are 20 suggestions to get started observing Lent this year. I hope whichever you choose it takes you on a courageous journey of reflection.  

Give Up: Complaining

Complaining is the habit of looking at a situation and seeing the negative first. For Lent, wear a rubber band or a bracelet specifically to remind you to think before you complain. When you catch yourself, move the bracelet to the other arm to help you become more aware of your habit.

Begin: A Gratitude Practice

Brené Brown, in her research on joy and gratitude, found that it is grateful people who are the most joyful, not the other way around. And the most grateful people make an intentional practice of gratitude. So for Lent, start a Gratitude Journal. Or simply share with your family what you are grateful for each night over dinner.

Give Up: Meat

Giving up meat on Fridays during Lent is a common practice. But why not try giving up meat during the work week? Or if you are feeling ambitious, giving it up completely for 40 days? Adjusting to a diet not totally dependent on meat is a way of becoming more aware of how rich our eating habits have become.

Begin: A Food Journal

One of the most difficult relationships to navigate in our lives is our relationship with food. Take the next 40 days and start a Food Journal, mindfully keeping track of all your food choices. You might also do some journaling about your feelings around eating as a way of becoming more aware.

Give Up: Body Shaming

Most of us struggle with accepting our physical self. We want to be more thin, more fit, more blonde. No matter how hard we work, there is always another yardstick we aren’t measuring up to. For Lent, commit to recognizing your negative self-talk around your body image and remind yourself of all the things your body does for you daily.

Begin: Affirmations

Affirmations are used to help adjust the narrative of your subconcious mind. In short, they are a way to focus our attention, with intention, on the thoughts that build us up instead of focusing on destructive patterns of thinking. For Lent, try downloading an app like ThinkUP or I am, which can encourage a daily practice of affirmations.

Give Up: Social Media

Does social media take up too much of your time? Are you following accounts that are adding to your stress levels? For Lent, consider giving up one or all of your social media accounts for 40 days. You may find that your face-to-face social interactions are much more satisfying than the more fleeting internet ones.

Begin: A Meditation Practice

Meditation can help you manage stress and reduce anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. You may choose to sit and take ten deep focused breaths. You may use an app like Calm and follow along with a Guided Meditation. Or you may choose to sit quietly for 20 minutes each day of Lent and let your mind just rest, observing nonjudgmentally wherever it wants to go.

Give Up: Spending

Lent is a wonderful time to go on a spending fast.  Eliminating extra or frivolous spending for 40 days can truly illuminate not only your financial priorities, but places you were spending unnecessary money without realizing it. Making this conscious shift in spending may also provide an opportunity to re-evaluate your budget altogether.

Begin: Volunteering

One of the focuses of Lent is giving to others. What could be more valuable than the gift of your time? Find a cause close to your heart: a homeless facility, a nursing home, a pet shelter, and find out what you can do to help forward their mission.

Give Up: Screen Time after 8pm

Many of us spend the last few hours of the day lost in the black holes of technology. Perhaps a more productive and reflective way to wind down would be to put down our phones, turn off the tv and create a bedtime ritual that helps us end the next 40 days more mindfully.

Begin: A Reading Habit

As someone who loves reading, I know even readers can benefit from a specific reading ritual. It can be hard to find the time to read, whether you love it or not. Choose a book that encourages growth or introspection in some way and set a daily time, 15 or 20 minutes, to commit to the habit of reading over the next 40 days.

Give Up: Fast Food

We live in such a fast-paced society, it can be easy to fall into the habit of eating on the run. Use the season of Lent as an opportunity to reconnect with food that is better for you, as well as the ritual of preparing and enjoying a meal.

Begin: Drinking More Water

Drinking water has so many scientifically proven benefits. It reglates body temperature, flushes toxins and bacteria from our system, lubricates joints and can improve brain function. Take the next 40 days and intentionally replace your beverage of choice with a glass of water.

Give Up: Anger & Unforgiveness

With all the conflict in the world right now, it can be easy to live in a constant state of anger and unforgiveness. And while these negative emotions can be a sign of issues that you should address, holding on to them is so much more detrimental to you than to the person on the other end of your frustrations. Take the 40 days of Lent to practice letting go of your anger and exercising forgiveness.

Begin: Stretching

With the increased stress of the last few years comes tighter muscles. As a way of counteracting both, add stretching to your next 40 days. A few Sun Salutations when your feet hit the floor in the morning, or a short yoga practice where you are moving intentionally and observing your breath can benefit both your body and your mind.

Give Up: A Streaming Service

We have become very accustomed to having our entertainment literally On Demand. A great way to make some space in your life over the next 40 days  might be to give up Netflix, Hulu, Prime: any or all of the entertainment right at your fingertips. This could also mean giving up your gaming habit. Letting go of one of our readiest forms of entertainment can provide the opportunity for us to decide if we are prioritizing our time and resources in a way that supports our values.

Begin: Praying in Color

Praying in Color, an activity created by Sybil MacBeth, is both meditative and creative.  Simply put, it is a small art practice that is an intersection of prayer and doodling. It can be used at anytime, but can also be specifically applied to the 40 days of the Lenten season. The Praying in Color website has free printable templates that make the exercise simple and managable. Instructions and suggestions for how to use them are here.

Give Up: Possessions

Lent is a season of ‘giving up’, and this can be applied to our tangible possessions as well! Take the next 40 days to declutter  items that you no longer want or use and pass them on to others in need. The benefits of letting go of the possessions in our lives and homes that no longer serve us can be a literal and powerful way to make room for things that matter more.

Begin: Saving Money for Charity

A main focus of the Lenten season is giving to the needy. Practicing this over the next 40 days could include collecting canned goods for a food drive, starting a piggy bank and saving your extra change, crowd-sourcing for a specific cause. It could also look like giving up something you do  regularly (like grabbing a coffee or a night out) and using that money instead for someone who desperately needs it.

Going on a fast from life’s little luxuries or incorporating a new, helpful habit are both great ideas and can help us appreciate our lives more. But it is what we do with those activities that matters most.

Making room in our lives by giving something up is only valuable if we use that space to reflect. Adding a new positive activity is only valuable if we do it with meditative  intention.

Our lives can be so improved when we take the time to slow down and look around. And once we have taken a look, to move forward with purpose, re-aligning our behavior with our true priorites.  I pray that this Lenten season will provide that time for you.


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