Six Ideas on Preparing for Lent
“Are you ready for Lent?”
It’s one of those questions you don’t quite know how to answer. Of course, sometimes people aren’t really looking for an answer—just an opportunity to tell you about their own superhuman Lent. Be ready to look on in admiration as you hear all about the bread & water regimen they’re adopting, along with the twelve complete rosaries each week and the family Summa nights they have planned.
Even if you could get a word in, what do you say? What’s there to get ready for, really? Ash Wednesday comes. You give something up. It stays given up until Easter. Right? But how do you even decide what to give up? Or what to do that will make Lent a time of spiritual benefit?
In a homily a few years ago, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia made this suggestion about Lent, “The question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘What length am I willing to go to experience Jesus? What am I willing to do? What am I willing to sacrifice to get to know Jesus?’”
Sounds like a great place to start.
1) Start now.
Ash Wednesday isn’t “Figure Out What You’re Doing for Lent Day.” Start your personal conversation today, before the seasonal rush.
2) Figure out what you SHOULD do.
You may not think of yourself as a complex person, but complexity is part and parcel of being a human being. Don’t just look around and say, “I’m giving up THAT.” Take a look inside yourself and decide what it is that most distracts you from knowing Jesus better than you do.
3) Ask for help if you need it.
By “conversation” we don’t mean just talking to yourself. Invite Jesus into the conversation, and Mary, your Guardian Angel, a saint you’re devoted to—they all know you and have an interest in helping you live up to your potential. You can also seek out the advice of friends and family. Who likes to tell you what to do better than they do? You can offer advice too, especially to your kids. Helping them understand things like Lenten sacrifice is pretty much part of the parent job description.
4) Decide what you’re WILLING to do.
Your answer to this question doesn’t have to be dramatic (like the bread and water mentioned above); if you get dramatic about it you’re likely to set a lot of unreasonable expectations for yourself. Ask the question honestly, come up with some ideas and then make a reasonable decision you won’t think you were crazy for making within a week.
5) Clear the decks.
Once you decide what you’re going to do for Lent, start looking for anything that might be an obstacle and get it out of your way. Have you given up sweets? Get them out of your house. If you have to have them around for the rest of the family, at least get them out of your immediate reach.
Do the same with any other sacrifice. Set the stage so that you aren’t constantly tempted to drop the ball. Cutting back on television to devote more time to prayer? Decide where that extra prayer is going to happen. Within arm’s length of your TV remote is not a good place.
6) Pray. And then pray some more.
You don’t make it through Lent on sheer will power. Part of getting closer to Jesus during Lent is spending time with Him in prayer. Ask Him for the perseverance you need to stay faithful and avoid that jelly doughnut you crave every morning. He won’t laugh at you or call you a lightweight. He’ll be happy that you came to Him about it.
Here’s one more thing to keep in mind. Lent isn’t supposed to be a forty-day grudge match between you and your desire to break down and have that evening cocktail you said you wouldn’t have. Keep in mind that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing for Jesus; imitating in a very small way the sacrifice He made for you. Stay focused on the gesture of appreciation behind your actions and the fact that it’s bringing you into a closer relationship with the most important person in your life.
Bonus: Okay, but what should I do for Lent?
So now that you're ready to get going, you still can't decide what you should do. My pastor had some great advice about Lent, and to a lesser extent, Advent. “Lent and Advent are training season for the rest of the year. So look beyond just giving something up to building up your spiritual strength.”
Here is what he suggested:
- Make a sacrifice. Give something up, but don't just look for something to give up during Lent. Look for something that is a personal vice. This doesn't have to be food. You could have a vice for gossip. Work on eliminating a vice in your life. It will get you closer to being a Saint.
- Do some reading. Find a book that will help your spiritual life and commit to reading it during Lent. You could read a book on prayer or spiritual combat.
- Start a new prayer habit. Pick a new prayer like the Morning Offering or the Divine Mercy Chaplet and commit to praying it during Lent. Continue after Lent is over.
- Give alms. As Christians we're always supposed to help the poor but there is a special emphasis on this during Lent. Spend time at a shelter or soup kitchen or make a commitment with your family to give to an organization like Cross Catholic.
We want to hear from you!
What are you doing for Lent this year?
What have you done in the past that may have been very difficult but you are glad you did?