Who would have thought that Lent would become such a crowded place? There has been an explosion of interest in it over the last few years, with Christians from all sorts of church backgrounds observing the season – including those who wouldn’t normally do such a thing (and outside Church circles they’re even talking about it on Radio One!).
For those who aren’t sure, Lent is the period of time that leads up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is traditionally a time for concentrated reflection, prayer and self-examination in preparation for the commemoration and celebration of those events. Fasting is central to this season, as a means of focusing oneself on God and a reminder that there is something particular about this time. Forty days is the normal length of time because it links us back to Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness and to the forty years of Israel’s wanderings in the desert.
But it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the different options of what to do during this time, so here are my Ten Top Tips of things that I, and people I know, have found helpful. If you’ve never done anything for Lent before – or don’t know where to start – why not choose one of these options and give it a go? I’d love to know how you get on.
- Be Silent
Set aside five minutes each day simply to sit in God’s presence in silence (use the timer on your phone). Don’t worry about all the thoughts that will crowd into your head – just gently move them on and bring yourself back into focus. You will probably soon find that five minutes isn’t long enough, so then extend it to ten minutes, and then to fifteen etc.
- Count Your Blessings
As a family, we love this Lent resource from Christian Aid. Each day gives you a very short reflection to help you give thanks for the blessings in your life and use them to bless others. There are also ones for children and young people and we do it together each day over our evening meal (we can’t quite decide which we like best so we tend to do a combination of all three!).
- Go Meat-Free
For the last two years we have given up meat as a family, as a way of fasting that also acknowledges the need for us to develop diets that are much more grain-and-vegetable-based, with just a small amount of meat. It has been a challenge, but we’ve loved experimenting with different recipes!
- Take Up Generosity
40Acts is a Lent scheme with a difference: rather than giving something up, the challenge is to take up generosity. You can sign up to receive a daily email with a reflection written by a different person each day and a generosity challenge.
- Give Up Palm Oil
This is something my kids are doing. Palm oil is causing huge environmental and social problems and by using products that have it in we are implicitly saying we don’t care about this. You’ll suddenly realise how ubiquitous it is and – for my kids – it’s a big challenge as it is found in nearly all sweets and biscuits. But they’re up for it and it’s a great way of finding out about this product.
- Be Like a Celt
The traditional Celtic fast right way back before Roman Christianity took over in the British Isles was for fifty days. They ate nothing during the day and just had one meal in the evening (they also celebrated a different date for Easter than the one we have adopted). You might be relieved to know I don’t do this, but I know someone who does it every year and, whilst very challenging, they gain immensely from it (albeit not in weight!).
- Journey to the Empty Tomb
Lent can be a wonderful opportunity to spend more time getting to know your Bible. There are all sorts of great Lent resources for that, but I recommend Paula Gooder’s, Journey to the Empty Tomb, if you’re wanting something fairly meaty but accessible too.
- Do a Carbon Fast
Following the successful carbon fasts that Tearfund ran for a few years, the South West dioceses of the Church of England are doing one that anyone can join. It is a good way to take forty days to consider what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and reflect on key passages from the Bible. You can sign up here to receive a daily email with an action to consider (except Sundays), a Bible reading and specially written reflection.
- Go Deeper
Spring Harvest have just brought out a forty-day devotional called, Immeasurably Deeper, to help root us more deeply into God. It covers a wonderfully wide range of topics (eg. meditation…humility…Sabbath…grief…listening to God…disappointment…) with contributions from all sorts of good and interesting people. Get hold of the book and take a (short) chapter a day for your Lentern reflections.
- Don’t Forget to Celebrate!
Traditionally, Lent fasts are broken every Sunday because that is the day of the resurrection. So make the most of the Sundays of Lent: put away your sackcloth and get on your glad rags, invite people round for delicious food, and celebrate!
… for something a bit different, here is me talking all things Lentern with food aficionado, writer and author Rosemary Moon.