So, you decided to give up something for Lent. Beautiful! What has replaced it?
If you found a worthwhile Why, you have a purpose. It’s not about just following tradition or a growing trend. You gave up to grow.
As I wondered about Lent this year, it crossed my mind, as I leaned to grab the can of whipped cream out of the fridge, that I could give up hot cocoa. I dismissed it, because it lacked meaning or purpose. I enjoy hot cocoa, especially working at the keyboard in my drafty, old house on cold days. The whipped cream… mmmm… I really like the whipped cream, but it’s a far less frequent indulgence than the cocoa. I don’t do the hot beverage thing every day, even in winter.
What we choose for our fast should be something regularly, and more keenly, felt.
Decrease to Increase
Often in modern Protestant observance of Lent, something is given up to make room for something better. That’s where I ended up this year when I stopped going to my smart phone first thing in the morning to return to starting the day with God in prayer and Bible-reading.
Checking the time… then social media… and email… on my phone isn’t wrong. Or at least it isn’t when it doesn’t keep me from more important things. When it takes time I should spend with God, or my family, it’s no longer okay. It becomes sin. I’ve made it an idol.
Not something to take lightly…
My approach to Lent this year wasn’t so much a sacrificial fast, but a purposeful giving-up for specific gain. I fell into my morning phone habit because it was easy, and distracting. It delayed the inevitable leaving of my cozy blankets and engaging with real life. It kept me from starting my day the best way. If God wanted to speak to me in His still, small voice, I wasn’t listening. I didn’t intend to close my ears and heart, but I did.
My Lenten goal is to reestablish a spiritually healthy morning routine. Which requires giving up the habit that stole my early-morning attention from God.
NOW is always the best time to make a necessary change. Lent, like New Year or a birthday, encourages us to consider how we’re living and how we can make changes for the better. The beauty of Lent is the natural focus is Christ and His sacrifice, not ourselves.
The space left behind
Maybe you used Lent as a motivating opportunity to give up an unhealthy habit. Your goal is to stop. Did you give yourself a new, healthy habit to put in its place?
When we give up a habit, it leaves an empty space to be filled. Some people trying to quit smoking, put gum in their mouth instead of a cigarette, or take a brisk walk instead of a cigarette break. A walk or other physical activity, paired with a glass of water, is also helpful when our problem is snacking. To give my mind something better to focus on when I struggle in my thought life, I memorize Scripture. Philippians 4:4-9 is a good go-to.
When we give up a bad habit, or fast from a neutral pleasure, the pang of missing it should turn our heart toward God, not ourselves. God won’t be our first thought. Our lack will.
What it all comes down to, is intentionality. Growth requires effort. Spiritual growth also requires submission. It’s not about how I feel, it’s about what is True.
How many of us complain or make the excuse that we’re too busy for consistent time with God? Lent is the perfect time to consider how we fill the moments we have. Social media. Entertainment. Turning to things other than God for comfort and fulfillment. Complaining. Living in the past, or longing for the future, instead of being present in this moment.
Evaluating our favorites and habits
Sometimes it’s difficult to see our excesses in the frenetic self-indulgence of modern, first-world life. The Holy Spirit rarely gets in a shouting match with the noise of the world. We become desensitized to the effects of what we feed our minds. Like my phone habit, what is convenient and unchallenging, pushes out what takes effort.
When we decide to push back, and give up the harmful and unprofitable, we need to be intentional about using the freed-up time and energy for something healthy and worthwhile. I’m getting back to making prayer a priority. I know I need to get regular exercise into my schedule… and leave less room for dessert.
When we purpose to give up a bad habit permanently, we need to be careful not to establish a different bad habit. Something will fill the space; we’re responsible for what.
Establishing healthy body, mind, and soul habits requires effort, but it’s worth it!
I’ll be back next week with some questions to consider when evaluating our habits.