I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, in a small town where almost everyone belonged to a church community, during a time when elementary students were released from school once a week and marched to either the Catholic Church or the Protestant Church for religious lessons. So, giving up something for Lent was almost like a homework assignment. Most of us did it and we kept tabs on whether our friends were succeeding.
As an adult, during those times when I was regularly attending church, I often started Lent with good intentions of giving something up, but I seldom made it all the way to Easter. I couldn’t understand how giving up something that was often something I was better off without, really had anything to do with God and me. Then, about 20 years ago, well after I had joined the Episcopal Church, I had a conversation with a rector I was working with about the meaning of Lent. I came to understand in a different way, that Lent was a time for me to grow closer to God; a time to deepen my faith and try to grow in my understanding of how best to live my life in a way that glorifies God; a time to grow in my knowledge of my faith and my spiritual well-being. That’s when I began to take something on for Lent, rather than give something up.
Now, as Lent approaches, I think about where I feel a hole in my life – what void needs to be filled that will hopefully deepen my relationship with God. Is there a person who exemplifies a godly life lived that I want to understand? Is there a subject I want to delve into, such as racial injustice or homelessness? Is there an author or writings I want to learn more about? Over the years, I have used the writings of authors as varied as Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, C.S. Lewis, Marilyn McEntyre, Teresa of Avila, and Jean Chittister. Many authors have works written as daily devotions.
My practice, then, for Lent, becomes to recommit to a daily time for prayer and study. There are many resources for this: our Book of Common Prayer, Forward Day by Day, the readings from the Daily Lectionary. I often use Lent to try one I don’t usually use. I add to that a few pages or chapter of whatever writing I have chosen. I find this practice, along with the wonderful sermons I hear on Sunday, usually result in a much more meaningful Holy Week. And sometimes, I even succeed in doing it all the way to Easter Sunday.