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.


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.


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.

Welcome back to the Internet!

Hello social media faster! Welcome back to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and/or Wuphf! Now that you’re back, can we talk? I would have said something sooner…but I don’t have your number and while you were fasting I couldn’t DM you. See I heard you say a few things before you left to “get your Lent on” that concerned me. You said some nasty things about my friend, social media. So let’s clear the air and think about how you, me, and your apps can move past this. When you left you said that social media is a distraction, it’s a land of comparison and facades, it produces unhealthy communication, and is a toxic environment.

You thought you were talking about social media…but I think if we talk it through…you’re actually talking about yourself. You’re not talking about the medium, you’re talking about the way you interact with it. I’m worried that in giving up social media you thought you were ridding your life of those unhealthy behaviors. It might not be social media’s fault, but actually a product of your sinful heart. I’m using a lot of “you” statements here, so before you get really mad at me can I just say that in order to say this to you, I had to say it to myself first. I had to dive into the deep end of my own sin patterns and research social media’s created purpose. I took master’s courses in social media and even wrote my master’s thesis on how we use our social apps.

So this doesn’t come lightly, it comes with my own experience and my own heavy, convicted, and forgiven heart. It comes with a hope that you won’t come back from Lent with the same patterns repeating in your use of technology. It comes at the defense of my friend, social media, and my desire to redeem social networks to restore them to their good, created purpose. Let’s take a look at those things you said while looking into our hearts and dreaming about what your online community could be.


What were online social networks and the apps that manage them created for? Some may argue and lament over the possible created purpose of Snapchat, but in general why were most apps created? The internet made a lot of things possible and is arguably one of greatest technological advancements in the past century…maybe ever. It connects us all. Right now if you wanted to you could email, video chat, shop, create, game with someone on the literal opposite side of our planet.

Social Media

There are beautiful things that are happening right now in the world because of this connection. One of my favorites is the brain child of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This star of 500 Days of Summer and, more recently, The Walk is the host of an online artist community called “Hit Record.” Using this social network, he brings together artistic collaborators from all over the globe to create music, film, books, poetry, cartoons, etc. So a skilled storyteller from Istanbul can post a story then a gifted animator from Albuquerque, NM can animate it while a master musician from South Africa scores the final product. As this process unfolds, connection brings creativity to life.  Think about 1 Corinthians 12, the body of Christ explained. All of a sudden this body is larger, and more diverse than a pre-internet world could even imagine.


What went wrong, though? Evidence of the fallen, broken world we live in is written all over our newsfeeds. Those things you said before you left, I feel them too. Our social apps can be a doorway to unhealthy distraction and temptation, comparison and discontentment, and anger towards the people you love. This last one maybe particularly relevant during an election year. These elements of social networking breed shame, guilt, jealousy, rage, and whole slew of other emotions that you haven’t seen adorably personified by Pixar. But are they produced by the network or the networker? More importantly, why and how are they produced by the networker?

In my research at Point Park University, I investigated how World Wrestling Entertainment has successfully stayed ahead of the game when it comes to social media marketing techniques. What I concluded was that they sought to create connections not to just deliver information. They understand that social media tools were created for interaction not promotion by itself. This is something a lot of companies fail to understand. Some companies, celebrities, even churches use their social platforms as nothing more than an internet bulletin board. WWE uses social tools effectively because they aren’t just saying, “Like me,” “Buy this,” “Subscribe!” They are saying, “You matter, let’s talk.” They create interactions and then social bonds between their wrestlers and their audience. Taylor Swift could also teach a class on this subject.

Social Media 4

Taylor Swift wrapping gifts to send to some of her social media fans!

What if we all saw social networking this way? Aren’t we all prone to the same self-promotive pitfalls many companies fall into with their social tools? Narcissism is the enemy of building effective social network communities. When your posts and interactions are just about you…what you’re doing, who you are…what actions, events, behaviors others can give you affirmation for, then that’s not community at all. That’s not connection at all. Tools that were designed for conversation and community have become pedestals and soap boxes.


The quest for healthy use of social media tools is the quest for healthy community. To help us on this journey let’s think about these tools in two ways. First, social media allows us to be the recorders of history and of how we are interacting with creation, our passions, and God. One of my favorite Biblical authors is Luke. On top of being a doctor, Luke was somewhat of a meticulous recorder of facts…he was kind of doing what journalism is supposed to be. Historians say he followed Paul on his journeys making sure every fact was verified and recorded. Check out his reasoning for writing his gospel:

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” – Luke 1:1-4

If we think of our news feeds as a place where we can interact with and record life in this way, doesn’t that seem like a higher calling? Your tweets, posts, instas, and gifs can be signposts of the Lord at work. Whenever we click “share” it can be an opportunity to share the Gospel through our lives. Secondly, on top of seeing social networks as an arena for recording history, they can also be an arena to celebrate life. When we are interacting with each other’s lives sometimes it’s easy for things like arrogance, jealousy, and discontent to creep in, but if we see the realm of social media as a tool for celebration then we can be well on our way to combating those thoughts.

Celebrate the birth of a new child. Celebrate someone passing an exam or getting a new job. Celebrate someone’s love for funny cat videos. Celebrate popular culture. Celebrate conflicting ideas. Celebrate your offline community. Christ centered celebration of the lives of others can be incredibly life giving. If we take the joy out of our online communities, we may find ourselves losing the joy in our lives. “Like” with purpose. Believe the best in people that disagree with you. Write your happy birthdays not out of obligation but out of celebration. Follow trends to participate in the world. Add a few more people into your profile pic or selfies. Online community like any other kind of community works best when we look outside ourselves and focus on one another.

Social Media 3

The Healing Is In the Pain

As we all continue through our Lenten journeys this year, a story from Numbers 21 reminds me of how uncomfortable it can be to deal with the poison of sin in our veins.  In this passage (Num.21:4-9) the people are grumbling against God and against Moses, bringing a profoundly deep rejection before the Lord and calling the perfect manna from heaven “worthless food.”  So the Lord sends venomous snakes into the camp that start biting the people and some of them start dying.  The people rapidly get the point and repent and ask Moses to intercede for them to ask God to remove the snakes.  Moses prays, and God does something a little strange.  He doesn’t take them away.  He tells Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake, put it on a pole high in the middle of the camp, and when anyone gets bitten they can look at it and live.  What an odd thing, they just have to look at it, and they’ll be immediately healed.

Why would God make them look at a depiction of the very thing that was afflicting them in order to get better?  Why not just take the snakes away?  Because our process of being healed has to involve honesty about what it was that hurt us.  The people had to look repeatedly at the source of their affliction, a snake, the image of sin entering the world and the enemy of humanity, in order for God to remove the poison of death.  It was such a small action required on their part, they just had to look up.


          When we are in the midst of our afflictions, and realizing the poison of sin that courses through our veins, Jesus only asks us to look up.  To name the things within us and in our world that bring death and destruction, and to look at the cross for our healing.  In John 3:14-15, right before our iconic John 3:16, Jesus says this:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus says our process now is the same as it was for the people in the wilderness.  Just as that particular group of Israelites had separated themselves from God and had brought violence and death into their community, so the sin of all of humanity has rejected God and we are the perpetrators and recipients of violence and death in our world.  And just as the serpent was raised up for their healing, this object and force that was outside of themselves, so Christ was nailed to the cross to do what we cannot do for ourselves.  To epitomize before God everything that is hateful and unrighteous, and to absorb the punishment that ought to be falling on us.  Then as now, the problem lies within us, and the solution lies outside of us in the person of the crucified Christ.

Like the serpents remaining in the camp, sin is still within us and around us.  It hasn’t yet been completely removed, although we know that one day it will be gone for good.  But for now, when we feel the pangs of death in us, we need to face them and name them for what they are, so that Christ can encompass them and heal the wounds that they have caused.

I grew up the youngest of three children, and during my senior year in college my middle brother was killed suddenly at the age of 24 while serving in Iraq.  That was by far the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced and had to deal with, and the next two years in particular were full of intense suffering.  The way I experienced my relationship with God at the time was to feel that He was very far from me, and therefore must have abandoned me.  I couldn’t have articulated it this way at that point, but I essentially thought that God was displeased with me somehow and that if I tried harder I could earn back His favor and He would comfort me in my grief and love me again.  And then I would feel like a failure because I kept being a mess, and I would be haunted by the fear that I would always feel this way and it would never get better.


(My brother Sgt. Jesse Strong)

Around that time I started going to a little Anglican church plant called Grace Anglican, and I started hearing this teaching about how it didn’t matter whether I had it together or not or was worthy or not, Christ was for me and not against me.  And I started a slow process of not trying to be perfect anymore.  It was a radical new thing to think that I didn’t have to hold it together and craft perfect prayers to say what I thought God wanted to hear and what I wished I meant.  I had the freedom to tell God exactly what was going on in my mind and heart, and what was causing me to suffer, and what I wanted Him to do about it, and what I feared He wouldn’t do about it, and what the crap was all this for anyway?  That was when things started to change and when I started to recover and be brought back to life.  When I stopped trying to heal myself and I just looked up and said, “Here I am, Lord.  Please be in my life who You say that You are.”

Whatever poison of sin is coursing through your veins right now, know that Jesus offers an eternal antidote.   He doesn’t extend it to you when you finally try hard enough to earn His help, but when you are finally honest about your inability to heal yourself.   All you have to do is lift up your eyes to the Giver of Life, the One who suffers and dies and is raised to life in order to raise us up with Him.


Lent: An Invitation to Fearlessness

For you are dust 

And to dust you shall return

In some ways these words may seem like a somber and even punitive statement.  Perhaps a bitter pronouncement of the imminence of death and mortality.  In other ways, it is very possible to find comfort and assurance in these words.  For God to say that we are dust means He knows what we are made of, and He knows our destinies.

Ash Wednesday commences the liturgical season of Lent, a time of fasting and repentance, 40 says of living with the reality of our sinfulness and preparing to receive the resurrection.  It is a season that asks us to engage in reflection and self-assessment.  A time to ask the Spirit to reveal those parts of our hearts and minds that are trapped in darkness, mired in failure and affliction and destruction.  No one would ever call Lent a pleasant or comfortable season.  It can actually be quite frightening to confront the depths of our own hearts with unflinching honesty.  It’s much easier to stay on the surface of what we know and what we can manage.  Yet Christ asks more than that because He desires to offer more than shallow platitudes and attractive exteriors.

palms and ashes

To experience the freedom of Christ we much first come face to face with our bondage.  This is not a pursuit we engage alone, because the human heart is capable of great depravity and suffering.  Rather, we ask Christ to shine His light into the dark recesses within us, knowing that we need not fear what He will find there.  We have nothing to fear because Christ is unafraid of what will be revealed.  There is no past sin or on-going destructive impulses that can shock or surprise the Lord.  No extent of failure or inadequacy that can make Him turn away.  No depth of wound and sorrow that can confound His ability to bind up and heal.  No losing battle with depression and anxiety that He cannot win.  Nothing that can separate us from the love of God or cause Him to rescind our adoption as sons and daughters.  Nothing to fear.

Lent affords the opportunity to invite the Spirit into our inner unknown, resting in the assurance that God knows what we are made of.  Let us repent and turn before our Savior, safe in the knowledge that Christ has already confronted every darkness that lies in the human heart and nailed it to the cross.  We can bare everything within us that leads to death and decay, knowing that death will never be the final word and we will be raised to new life with Christ is His resurrection.