During Ash Wednesday services on the first day of Lent, many United Methodist pastors will invite their congregations “to observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word” (from the United Methodist Book of Worship). While you may be aware of this season leading up to Easter, you may wonder how you might “observe a holy Lent.”
There is no one prescribed way. Instead, we are each encouraged to find our own method of confronting our sinfulness, remembering our mortality, and giving thanks for the gift of salvation we receive through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of the more common practices is to give something up for Lent. Some abstain from chocolate, social media, shopping, or something else through the season. This is a religious practice known as fasting. We fast to reorient ourselves away from the distraction of those things, and back toward God.
Another way to reorient your life toward God, is to focus on devotional practices like Bible study and prayer during the season.
Many do not know where to begin when reading the Bible. The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide and Alive Now will help guide you in this pursuit. Each day they provide a scripture passage and wonderfully thought-provoking and spirit-enriching material to read and think about.
In the busyness of our everyday lives, prayer can sometimes get squeezed out. Lent is a wonderful time to intentionally work toward finding more time in your life for prayer. You can experiment with different ways to pray during the season, or really delve into a new-to-you way of praying. Enriching your prayer life is a great way to spend Lent.
Another way to observe a holy Lent is to take on a new way of serving. Throughout the forty days of the season you can adopt a new habit of volunteering in the community, making special financial gifts to service organizations, singing in the choir, or participating in a small group.
An important practice with which many of us struggle is the spiritual discipline of rest or Sabbath. We don’t have to rest on Saturday, the traditional Sabbath day, or even Sunday. You can instead find moments during an ordinary day to be still in God's presence. You might choose to spend a few minutes during lunch with a desktop meditation, listen to sermons on your commute, or read a poem that feeds your spirit. Each can be a great way of enriching your Lent.
Testing your knowledge with the daily Lent Quiz is a wonderful way to be reminded that we are in the season of Lent. Every day you have an opportunity to answer a challenging question then check out some other resources about the topic of the day. Use social media to share the questions and invite others to join you on your Lenten journey.
You will also want to find ways to share the meaning of the season with the children in your life. While their focus may be on Easter baskets and new clothes, you can enter into special times to help them find deeper meaning to the season.
Some families set aside money each day during Lent through creative ways to collect coins each day or by making small "sacrifices" as a family, like skipping a weekly movie or meal out, and collecting the money saved each week. On Easter Sunday, or soon after, donate the money to help people in your local community or across the globe.
Also, consider trying some traditions from other cultures to enhance your Easter celebration. Make instruments during Lent that you can use to celebrate the resurrection in song on Easter Sunday, similar to Christians in Zimbabwe. Or try some special Easter foods, like the Easter breakfast cakes of Poland.
Even while dyeing Easter Eggs you can creatively teach children about your faith by sharing The Importance of the Egg: Children and Easter video, which tells of the symbolism of the Easter Egg in a wonderfully lively way.
You may also use Lent as a time to learn about the seasons of Lent and Easter, and some of the practices of the Christian church.
Learning about rituals specific to the season can enhance your worship. You may want to know more about the ashes used on Ash Wednesday, a Maundy Thursday footwashing service you’re considering attending, or the Tenebrae service your congregation is planning for Good Friday.
Many United Methodist churches offer services on Ash Wednesday to begin of Lent, and other special services during Holy Week, the final days leading up to Easter. There may also be special times of prayer, study, and other gatherings that will help you continue your journey throughout the season. If you are not connected to a United Methodist congregation, use Find-A-Church to locate one close to you.
This 40-day journey called Lent is a wonderful opportunity to grow in your faith. Find your path of self-reflection and spiritual discovery, and invite others to join you as you seek to observe a holy Lent.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications.