Lent is a period of 40 days before Easter intended as a time of penitence and reflection to prepare for the great feast of the Resurrection. During this season, Christians have traditionally taken on additional disciplines as a reminder of the importance of keeping our desires and appetites in check, in order to grow deeper in our relationship with God. The three practices most commonly taken up in a special way during Lent are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving (or acts of mercy). Here are some ideas and resources on how to incorporate these disciplines into your devotional life. Thanks to my wife Ashley for some great ideas in the section for kids especially.
- A common traditional fast was to skip breakfast and lunch (or have one or two light snacks) but eat dinner. This type of fast is most common on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but can be practiced as regularly as one is able during Lent.
- On weekdays when not fasting, it has been traditional to abstain from meat and sometimes other items (eggs, dairy, sugar, etc. – which is why the Shrove Tuesday dinner is pancakes).
- Remember that Sundays are feast days! Don’t fast on a Sunday, but celebrate the resurrection, and look forward to the great feast of Easter.
- Apart from this traditional fast, you could fast from other things your body craves: desserts, alcohol, salt, fast food, coffee, etc. The point is to remind our bodies that our appetites should not be controlling us, and it is often the good things in life that can slowly become idols.
- Fasting from non-food items (social media, etc.) is also an option, but I would encourage you to consider some sort of food fast if you are able. It is hard to realize how much we are beholden to our food cravings until we fast from them!
- Use your judgment when choosing to fast, or talk to your priest/pastor if you are unsure. People with health issues that may be harmed by fasting should not do so, or should limit their fast to things that will not cause health problems (for instance, fasting from dessert, or fasting from a non-food item). The traditional ages for food fasting are 18-60 for this same health reason – but again, just use your judgment.
- When we fast, we are emptying ourselves out. Make sure to fill yourself back up with God (that’s why prayer and fasting go together).
- Don’t beat yourself up if you lapse in your intended fast. But keep trying – the whole point is to learn how to control our appetites. This might reveal your appetites are stronger than you thought. But the purpose of the fast is not to merit favor with God, but to train ourselves for righteousness. Take the training seriously, but remember it is only training, not something to earn God’s favor.
- If you do not pray the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer), I cannot encourage it enough as a discipline to take up during Lent (and continue afterwards!). It is more than just Scripture reading, but also teaches us how to pray, and guides us in the process using rich prayers passed down over the centuries.
- To guide you, you can order your own ACNA Book of Common Prayer if you want a hard copy, see the complete text online, or listen to an audio version as a podcast or online from the Trinity Mission. (For the podcast, search for “Audio Daily Office Trinity Mission” on your podcast app of choice.)
- I personally listen to the audio Morning Prayer during my morning commute and pray Evening Prayer at home with the physical prayer book and my Bible.
- There are several other editions of the Book of Common Prayer from our Anglican heritage – use whichever one works best for you. The same is true for various online/audio versions.
- If you have never done the Daily Office, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with just one – Morning or Evening Prayer. But commit to do it for at least a few weeks. It is tough to get in the habit, but once you get going, I think you will find it is very valuable.
- For a guide on how to use the Book of Common Prayer, check out this post on Anglican Pastor or ask your priest/pastor.
Almsgiving/Acts of Mercy
- We don’t want money to rule our hearts, so we need to practice giving it to those in need.
- But other acts of mercy/giving are valuable as well. Think about those around you who you can help:
- Is someone in your church/neighborhood/workplace in need of money or something physical that you can provide? Consider giving to them.
- Are there people with new babies or those who are sick and have trouble preparing food? Bring them a home-cooked meal.
- Is someone around you lonely (consider the old, the infirm, the stay-at-home mom)? See if you can provide them company.
- Remember that while the person in need will benefit from your giving, YOU will also benefit by humbling yourself to serve and by reducing the temptation to be ruled by our possessions or to depend on them more than we depend on God.
Ideas for Children
- Bury the “Alleluia”: It is traditional to refrain from saying the word “alleluia” during Lent. To help children grasp the abstract nature of this idea, write the word “alleluia” on a piece of paper (and perhaps have children write/decorate it as they are able) and actually, physically bury this paper in your backyard for the duration of Lent. Then, dig it up and resurrect it on Easter Sunday!
- The Baby Believer board book series by Danielle Hitchen, especially Holy Week, which walks through the emotions of Holy Week with short Bible readings.
- Go through a Lenten Calendar with a short daily activities designed to engage kids in fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Put it up on a wall or make a paper chain to give kids an easy visual!
- Bunny’s First Spring by Sally-Lloyd Jones: This picture book does a good job connecting the renewal in nature we experience during spring to the resurrection and new life we have in Jesus.
- The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross by Carl Laferton: The Gospel story in picture book form
- On the theology of the spiritual disciplines: The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
- Also Willard’s Divine Conspiracy is a more holistic look at the Christian life that touches on many similar themes.
- On practical advice for the spiritual disciplines: The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
- For reflections focused on Lent, consider the Bread and Wine collection.
- For poetry focused on Lent, consider Malcolm Guite’s poetry for Lent and Easter,Word in the Wilderness or his book of poems for the whole year,Sounding the Seasons.
- For music especially during Holy Week, consider Fernando Ortega’s album “The Crucifixion of Jesus” – some notes on this album here.