Wondering what to do for Lent?

Some of us have grown up in churches where Lent was an annual practice and a core part of our worship and rhythm of our year. Many of us are hearing about Lent for the first time or are familiar with it but have never engaged with it in an intentional way. Wherever you find yourself, I believe that Lent can be a vibrant time of spiritual growth, repentance and soul-searching, discipline and focus.

What is Lent?

This is a practice that the Church has been observing for centuries. It is meant to mirror the experience of Jesus fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, preparing for His earthly ministry and ultimate sacrifice. It is a time to seek the presence of Christ in intentional ways in preparation for Easter. It can be a spiritually rigorous and intense experience at times, but one that is meant to make the joy of the resurrection that much sweeter and triumphant! You can read more about the themes of Lent here.

How do I decide what to do during these 40 days?

Before you choose a specific practice, start by reflecting on what’s going on in your life recently. Do you have a big decision or new chapter coming up? Are there unresolved emotional wounds in your life that you’ve been avoiding dealing with? Is there a fractured relationship that you want to mend but don’t see a way forward? Are you wrestling with habitual sin? Have you struggled with consistency in your pursuit of Bible reading and prayer? Are you feeling distracted and distant from others? Determine what you are feeling most urgently and where you need to invite the work of the Holy Spirit to join with you.

From there, consider adding something positive into your routine and/or taking something away. The goal of a Lenten fast is not to be perfect and to “do better” as a Christian. The goal is to insert disruption into your normal routine in a way that will allow Christ to be more at work within you. By shifting your habits and schedule, you can more readily make room for Jesus in new ways. With that goal in mind, here are some practices to consider:

Prayer focus

Particularly if you are anticipating a decision and new chapter, wrestling with unhealed emotional pain in your life, or habitual sin you can’t conquer, this may be a good place to start. Make the decision to pray about these things regularly and open your heart to God’s working in those areas. This will need to be marked by willingness to then actually let God lead and move! It is ok if you are hesitant and scared at first. It is ok if you have to start slowly in opening up to God about what you are really dealing with. It is ok if it is deeply unsettling and you feel vulnerable and exposed. Be brutally honest in prayer, don’t think you need to give God polished prayers of what you think He wants to hear. Be open about what scares you in this process, where you’re wrestling with distrust, where you don’t want to let Him in, where you’d rather keep hiding or relying on yourself. The more you are honest with God, the more you’ll allow Him to meet you in authentic ways. There will be days where you want to shut down and give up, keep your eyes on our hope of the resurrection and the promise that Jesus makes all things new!

Food or device fast

Last year my husband and I fasted from gluten and dairy. That is the most extreme fast I have ever done, and it is not necessary to do something like this every year. It definitely disrupted our normal habits very extensively and just the act of doing something different as a gesture of faith was very impactful. You can consider fasting from one form of food such as sugar, soda, caffeine, chocolate, meat, etc. If you give up a food, try to use it as reminders to pray and seek the Lord throughout your day. When you are tempted to consume the thing you have given up, turn to prayer and invite the Spirit to help you and work in your mind and heart. Remind yourself that you are empty apart from Christ and that you need the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to sustain you and truly satisfy you. If you are struggling with feeling like your life is chaotic and unfocused, something simple like this could be a good choice to bring focus and discipline into your days.

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Many people choose to fast from their devices in some form. This could mean being off social media, being off one specific platform, limiting the time of day you are using devices, setting your phone to grayscale to curtail it’s impact on you, etc. Perhaps you are always playing music on Spotify or other streaming.  You may need to close those apps for set times of the day and be in silence with your thoughts and allowing Christ to be with you in the stillness. One suggestion would be to adopt the practice of “scripture before screen”, reading your Bible before you open your phone. It could also include putting your phone away during meals and when you are with others. If you are dealing with feelings of disconnection and anxiety, this might be a good option for you.

Introduce a positive new habit

I will ALWAYS recommend spending more time in God’s Word. Set a goal of being in your Bible/Bible app every day. Pick a book of the Bible that you want to gradually work through and start simple with one chapter a day. Find a friend who wants to do the same so you can encourage each other. The more you are immersed in the scriptures, the more you will know God and recognize His guidance and wisdom in your life. If you’re wanting to grow closer to God during Lent, Bible reading is an excellent strategy.

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You can also make intentional time for reading other books you know will be encouraging and formative. Maybe it’s being disciplined to attend Sunday worship and Bible study/small group every week. Think about opportunities you have that you know will help you learn and grow but that you have a hard time doing consistently. Lent is a great time to make them a priority and to give the Lord your time and focus in a new and sacrificial way.

Don’t give up

It is very likely that you will not be perfect at your fast. If you slip up and forget something or slip into an old behavior, don’t give up! Keep going even if you make mistakes. The Lord desires our hearts not our perfect behavior. If your heart is wanting to pursue Christ during Lent, God will receive that and meet you in ways you might not expect. Take this step of faith and obedience, keep going, and have an open heart before the Lord to see how He wants to reveal Himself to you along the way.

Finding hope after “13 Reasons Why”

What was your worst day? In what ways do you still think about it? How does it still effect you now? We all carry around our own personal blend of wounds and disappointments. This may be a factor in the show 13 Reasons Why becoming such a phenomenon among young people. A Netflix original, it has only been out for a couple of weeks and already is one of the most viewed series they’ve created.

Based on a book by the same title from author Jay Asher, this novel follows a teenage girl named Hannah Baker. You learn at the beginning that Hannah has committed suicide, for reasons that are unclear to the people around her. Before her death she recorded 13 cassette tapes explaining what led her to the point of taking her own life, each directed at a specific person and documenting the hurtful nature of their actions towards her. Through Hannah’s narration you relive the last year and a half in her life and gradually see the full picture of what contributed to her depression and suicidality. It is a very sobering take on the effects of bullying and trauma, and the ways that we impact one another.

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In general I have quite mixed feelings about the show. I would not characterize it as “enjoyable” to watch. It unflinchingly exposes the ugliness of the thoughtless and dismissive ways we can treat one another, as well as how easily someone can become isolated and fearful. Part of the draw of the show is that, sadly, most of what it portrays about high school relationships is accurate. Young people are deeply resonating with it because it feels very relatable to their own lived experience. The storylines deal with everything from petty teasing, to stalking, to sharing intimate photos without someone’s consent, to harassment, to sexual assault. It is all very painful to watch, and I don’t blanketly recommend it (see bottom for content guide.)

It raises some concerns for me that it might inspire copycat scenarios. On top that, many viewers are trivializing the content with memes or 13 Reasons “Promposals” which seem to miss the important message the show is communicating. Still, the majority of the audience is understanding the severe implications that our behavior towards others can produce. Everyone experiences more than we realize on the surface. We have the opportunity to either build people up or tear them down.

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It was fitting that Ivan and I watched the show during Holy Week, the lead-up to Easter. As I participated in a Good Friday service, 13 Reasons Why was on my mind. Good Friday also invites us to take an unflinching look at the darkness within and around us. It is meant to offer intense reflection on what it is that sent Jesus to the cross. It was our sin, our disobedience, and our failures that warranted a death sentence, a verdict which Jesus took upon Himself in our place. Everything that tempts us to despair was nailed to the cross that day.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:2

Many of us know this message: Jesus died for our sins to offer us forgiveness and mercy. That is always very good news. What we don’t often think about is that if Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, by implication, He also died for the sins committed against us. Jesus took our place to absorb the punishment that we deserved, and the abuses that we didn’t. His death covers the sins we commit and the sins that others have inflicted upon us. When Jesus says, “This is my body, given for you” He offers to trade places with us in every way that we need. He not only sees our sins and says, “I committed those acts,” He also looks at our wounds and says, “That happened to Me, those sins were directed at Me.” That includes taking on the ways that others have insulted us, betrayed us, ignored us, discriminated against us, abused us.

On the cross Jesus incurs all the damage those experiences create, and offers us His freedom and wholeness instead. In trading places with us He identifies with all our sufferings and allows us to move forward in the security and healing of God’s blessing, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Luke 3:22) When you bring to mind the worst ways that the sins of others have played out in your life, you can imagine them happening to Jesus. That doesn’t mean living in denial of your past, but you get to live now in the fullness of personhood that Christ always experienced. Always knowing that you are fully accepted and fully loved by God and that nothing will ever change that.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Dying on the cross was a gift, but so is the resurrection. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the cosmic game-changer. It means that suffering, separation, and death can never define us. They don’t have to be the final word. There is no evil strong enough to keep Jesus or us in the grave. Because Jesus lives, nothing can truly crush us.

Here’s something we don’t always notice, Jesus comes back with His same scarred body (John 20:24-29). He doesn’t come back just in spirit form or with a brand new body that has no prior history. Jesus comes back with the same body that endured extreme brutality but is still whole. The resurrection teaches us that there will come a day when we will inhabit our bodies with complete peace and unity. No longer struggling with mental/emotional anguish, no longer in bondage to loneliness and anxiety, no longer haunted by memories of abuses our bodies endured. We will be united with our bodies and move in God’s world without fear, without shame, and without pain. The promise of identifying with Christ will become a reality in our physical, lived experience.

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That is the good news that I kept wanting to share with Hannah, and that I want to share with you. Life is hard. Other people do terrible things and we do plenty of terrible things back. But that isn’t the end of the story. None of us are defined by our worst day. There is no sin or pain so great that Christ did not claim it as His own. And when the dead in Christ are all raised, you’ll live in your body that weathered the storm and is now fit for eternity.

 

 

Content guide: Be advised that this show depicts multiple scenes of graphic sexual violence. The show creators’ stated goal is to show the horror of assault to help observers understand how traumatizing it is for survivors, but watching it may not be worth it for some. Hannah’s suicide and death is also depicted. In Beyond the Reasons (an extra feature on the Netflix season) the creators explain in helpful ways why they chose to film it this way and they had many mental health care professionals consulting on the project. If you have personal experience with losing someone to suicide, this scene may be deeply painful to experience. Use discretion in your viewing, this show will not be appropriate for all audiences.