How to Prepare for Lent
The first step in the journey
I hate packing, but I don't get far without it.
If you’re like me, preparing for a trip is not as fun as taking the trip. I love travel but loathe the preparation necessary to make it work. When we’re going on a family vacation, I tend to drag my feet in assembling food, clothes and necessities. But unless I plan the destination and the important details in advance, the vacation is less likely to happen. A lack of planning can sabotage the joy of the journey. Preparation matters.
Lent is a 40-day pilgrimage to Easter where we become like Christ and grow closer to him. Surely this is a journey that merits our preparation. So how does this happen? Let me share with you what I did to prepare for Lent this year:
1. Start with Solitude (even just 15 minutes)
The first step of preparation I took was to set aside a 60 minute window of time for solitude: no people, no internet, and minimal noise. The reason is that we need space to pray, reflect and hear from God. Making a plan for Lent requires focused spiritual and mental concentration. So I shut off my email, shut the door to my study, and opened my Bible and journal.
2. Ask Jesus for Vision
How is Jesus Christ inviting you to become like Him during Lent? That is the question we take to the Lord in prayer with a posture of submission before him. “Jesus, show me how I may draw near to you and become like you this Lent. Make me your apprentice and disciple.” That’s the prayer that kicks off Lent, that’s the posture we’re in until Easter!
Jesus speaks through his Holy Spirit and through his Word. I opened up the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and this might be a good place for you to start also. His vision for you might be one of these:
· Cultivating a deeper hunger for God (Matthew 4:1-4, 5:6)
· Learning to love your neighbor without expectation of repayment (Matthew 5:43-48, 25:31-46)
· Discovering freedom from anxiety as you become more trusting in the Father’s care for you (Matthew 6:25-34)
· Submitting your sexual appetite to Jesus Christ and learning self-control (Matthew 5:27)
What is Jesus’ invitation to you this year? Write it down, keep it defined to something specific. You can even envision what it would look like for you to become this kind of person in Christ.
3. Get Real
All of us have an “inner rebel” that does not wish to submit to Christ or his vision for transformation. There’s a side of me that says, “No way, I do not want to surrender anything to Christ- my relationships, appetite, or strategies for finding love. And I don’t want the discomfort of Lent, either!” So I wrote about that in my notes.
When we acknowledge the competing vision and demands of our false self, it will have less power to sabotage Christ’s vision for us. This gives us an opportunity to say “YES” to Jesus’ invitation in a more honest and single-minded way.
4. Make a Plan
How do we say "yes" to Christ's invitation? And how does his vision for us become a reality?
Scripture and church tradition have given us a time tested answer to that question: the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Together, these three disciplines act like a gentle harness, keeping us close to Christ and training us to become like him.
· Fasting: a decrease in personal consumption to make space for Christ’s transforming presence.
o Choose a THING from which to fast: sugar, alcohol, meat, caffeine - this is called the “partial fast.”
o Choose a DAY from which to fast. I recommend Fridays, in keeping with church tradition) - this is called the “whole fast.”
o Choose a SCREEN from which to fast, including netflix, social media, movies.
· Prayer: participating in the life of God, talking with him and listening to him along the way to Easter.
o Choose a TIME to pray: I recommend making a space for 3 mornings each week for communion with God.
o Choose a SCRIPTURE to pray. Perhaps you’ll follow along in the daily office or pray one of the 7 penitential Psalms each week.
o Choose a PEOPLE with whom to pray: make it a practice to be at church each week, and join a small group if your church is offering one.
· Almsgiving: store away money to give away in love of neighbor.
o I recommend physically withdrawing money from your checking account and storing it at home as a reminder that you’re committing to love your neighbor with it.
This is separate from your regular giving to your local church, although your church may give a special Good Friday gift.
5. Share it (without showing off)
We are not made to make a pilgrimage to Easter by ourselves. We need the camaraderie, support and spiritual encouragement of friends and mentors. I wrote down my plan for Lent this year (including both vision and the steps I'm taking with Christ in that direction) to my wife, Bishop, spiritual director, and a close friend. Each of them has power to veto, affirm or suggest a change to my plan. Along the way, they'll help me when I fail and get discouraged!
This is different than showing off. Christ warned against showcasing our spirituality (Matthew 6).
May Christ give you vision for Lent this year. Until next time.... Aaron Damiani