Here we are, on Fat Tuesday – and if you’re like me, you’re scrambling to decide what exactly you’re giving up for the next 40 days. Will it be candy – no, procrastinating… or maybe you’ll finally tackle that missing prayer time. The possibilities seem infinite and overwhelming. Before you know it, there are going to be ashes on your forehead and all your Catholic friends will be asking, “So what did YOU give up this year?”
Don’t worry too much. I’ve been thinking about it, and I have some rock-solid advice on how to make this the most productive (and rewarding) Lent ever.
In Luke 10:27, Jesus is talking with a lawyer about what it takes to get eternal life. The lawyer says “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus tells us that’s the right answer; “Do this, and you will live.” For me, this verse is the foundation of all my Lenten ideas and sacrifices. A lot of times, we try to do one HUGE sacrifice that seems like the most impressive thing we can think of… but the point isn’t how big our sacrifices are. Lent is about learning to love God better, and he gives us a few different areas to work on in the Gospels.
Heart, soul, strength, mind, neighbor; here are five different ways we can grow closer to Christ.
- Heart: Where are you emotionally with God? With your parents? Are there grudges or unresolved problems in your relationships? Do you need to break free of an unhealthy infatuation with someone or something?
- Soul: Be honest – how much prayer time are you getting daily? When was the last time you went to Confession or a daily Mass? Do you have a patron Saint or a particular part of Church history you want to know about?
- Strength: Pope John Paul II always talked about how our bodies are linked into our spiritual lives, and it’s very true. Are you living an active life? Do you spend time with others? It’s amazing the freedom that comes from the small accomplishment of just getting off the couch and out the door for a game of pick-up basketball or a jog.
- Mind: Where’s your willpower at? Can you resist that extra-large order of French fries – or the extra ten minutes you know you shouldn’t be online at night? Even in the smallest things, growing in willpower helps us resist temptations in all areas of life. Try sleeping without a pillow, getting up 10 minutes earlier, or remembering to brush your teeth (and floss) three times a day. Discipline is a great weapon against the occasions of sin.
- Neighbor: How do you love those around you? Do you sacrifice for others? Do you listen when they need to talk? Something as simple as a word of affirmation or emptying a full dishwasher can serve as a huge statement of love for those around you.
At this point you might be thinking “Dang, that’s a lot of stuff to do! I can’t even handle ONE thing for Lent.” Worry not. Pick one area from those five, and then pick one small, attainable thing from that category. Maybe it’s getting up ten minutes earlier to pray, maybe it’s trying to stop calling your siblings names. It’s up to you. As Lent goes on, if you’re doing well, you can add in something from another category too. Just remember to keep focused on why you’re doing this – to love Jesus better. Walk the road these 40 days and you’ll be that much more united with Him when he walks the road to Calvary this Triduum.
Have a powerful Lent.