In 10 days, we will enter a new season in the Church year: Lent. On March 1, we will observe Ash Wednesday. We will mark our foreheads with ashes and begin 40 days of giving, fasting, and praying in the wilderness with Jesus. Lent is a season of preparation for Easter, but it is also a journey towards Easter.
Megan and I love to travel. But I hate packing. My approach is to pack late and as quickly as possible, and not worry too much if I forget anything. I figure if something is too forgettable, I can probably find a way to “make do” without it. This has resulted in me backpacking for three days in sandals because I forgot my boots. Or the time I forgot my backpacking stove and so a group of us had to cook all of our meals over a wood-fire.
Megan, on the other hand, starts packing for trips weeks in advance. She usually takes over an entire room in our house and lays everything out, tries everything on to make sure it fits and feels comfortable for what she will be doing. She makes lists of everything she might need. Then she carefully packs everything into a suitcase. Actually, suitcases….lots of suitcases. But, she always has everything she needs.
Megan’s approach isn’t just a better approach to travel; it is a better approach to Lent. As we approach Lent, we need to prepare in advance for how we are going to enter this season of preparation. I can’t tell you how many times I was trying to decide what spiritual practices I was going to take up or foods I was going to give up for Lent while I was sitting in an Ash Wednesday service. But you don’t (and shouldn’t!) wait until Ash Wednesday to prepare for Lent.
What would you put in your backpack for 40 days with Jesus in the desert? Here are some suggestions of practices I have found helpful for Lent:
Plan to attend community Lenten practices. Come to Ash Wednesday. Come to Lenten Noon Prayer on Wednesdays. Come to our Wednesday Lenten Dinner Series on the Lord’s Prayer. Come to church each Sunday to rest, feast, and be refreshed. We don’t fast on Sundays! Spiritual disciplines and practices are hard and we need the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ if we are going to make it through the journey
Making a journey requires sustenance. We need to feed on the Word of God if we are going to make it through 40 days of disciplines. Decide now how you are going to feed on the Word of God during Lent.
As Christians, we don’t have to be alone in the desert. Jesus is with us by the Holy Spirit. We can remain in contact with him throughout the journey. Nothing makes hard work more enjoyable than company and conversation. Make a plan to pray during Lent. Will you pray each morning? Around the dinner table? Before bed? During your lunch break?
Another way to connect with Jesus is by giving to the poor. Jesus said that He comes to be with us in the poor (Matthew 25). How will you meet with Jesus among the poor? Will you share a meal with a homeless person each week? Will you volunteer at a food bank?
Everyone always asks, “what did you give up for Lent?” The assumption is that you give up one specific food or practice. I think this is a fantastic way to fast during Lent. But when Jesus taught about fasting, he was referring specifically to not eating food for a set period of time. I find it helpful to do both. Pick something to give up for Lent (Facebook, alcohol, meat, gossip) AND plan to fast from food for set periods of time. I have found it helpful to invite a friend to do it with you for support and accountability.
As you prepare to prepare, I am praying that God the Father would guide and direct you by His Holy Spirit how you can make this journey with Jesus in the dessert.