Into the Wilderness with Jesus: 5 Tips for a Blessed Lent
Penance, sacrifice, prayer, alms giving, crosses of ash smeared on our foreheads. The season of Lent is a rich and ancient Christian tradition which reminds us of our mortality, sinful nature, and dependence upon God as Lord and Savior.
And yet Lent is a season nearly forgotten. Dismissed as one of those stuffy “Catholic” traditions, Lent is ignored like Advent, or a secularized season of pseudo-pious dieting at best.
But it doesn’t have to be.
The 40-day season of Lent was originally reserved for new converts entering the ancient Church. After an initiation process which could last years, Lent was the final approach and a participation in the life of Christ as he entered the wilderness in preparation for his mission. The practice was so efficacious for these new converts that soon the whole Church got involved, so that now we include this part of the liturgical year as our journey in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
So how can we take full advantage of the spiritual benefits of Lent? Here are a few ideas.
1) Avoid Marti Gras
Known as “Fat Tuesday,” Marti Gras is a time of revelry and feasting in anticipation of the long and dry 40 days of Lent ahead. But why gorge yourself now? Isn’t stuffing ourselves with food, drink, and festivities like getting your fill of depravity the night before your wedding? Begin your discipline the moment you understand its need in your life, otherwise, Lent becomes another novelty.
2) Give One, Take One
Many people surrender a vice or habit for Lent, but forget that the entire purpose of Lent is to remove everything which stands between ourselves and a closer relationship with God. Giving up social media? Put a Scripture reading app on your phone instead and meditate on God’s word instead. Giving up a certain food? Donate a meal or volunteer at a shelter each week to take its place. Giving up foul language? Bless someone each time anger or frustration rises–especially your enemies. Remember, Lent is about allowing our hearts to swell more and more for God.
3) It’s Not About You
Not good at prayer? Aside from the rich prayer tradition of the Church (including the powerful rosary), think of one person to pray for each day. This could be a friend, family member, stranger you meet, co-worker, government figures, and enemies. Pray for them throughout the day, offering intentions for their good. This is great practice for Heaven, where the saint’s sole occupation is praising God and praying on our behalf.
4) Get Uncomfortable
Although Jesus was fully God, he also experienced the rigors of being human. Traveling the wilderness for 40 days was a throwback to the Israelites wandering the desert due to their sinfulness, and now Jesus shows us how to go into the breach of life, obeying God no matter what, and coming out the other side.
This Lent, step outside your comfort zone. Anti-social? Get involved in church functions or serve at a local community center. Sit with the unpopular, reconcile with an adversary (especially if you need to apologize), share your faith, volunteer, place yourself in situations where you are not the center of your world, but giving yourself completely for the good of another.
5) Into the Void
Our lives are filled with the static of life. We no longer understand silence, seclusion, and the traffic patterns of our own thoughts. Take time each day to sit in complete silence and simply be. God is a gentleman who will not compete for your attention, as it was in silence that Elijah heard the voice of God (1 Kings 19), and it is there that we must train ourselves to be still in his presence.
These are just a few ideas to get you started with Lent. Hopefully, many of these will carry on beyond Lent and become a regular part of your walk with Christ. God bless, and may your Lent be a fruitful experience as we anticipate the resurrection of our Lord.by