As more and more evangelical Christians embrace church traditions such as lent (and evangelicals really need lent), we tend to bring our particular brand of zestful enthusiasm to the project. Let’s be honest: this means we will probably over-do it.
At my church we put a high premium on beauty, which means the way we do things, the mode in which we do them, the materials, the methods, the movements, the aesthetic… these things are as important as the words we use. Ash Wednesday service is one of the more beautiful, and hence meaningful nights of the year at Redemption Church. The picture above is from the station at which we receive the imposition of ashes. It would be easy to get caught up in the moment and commit to an overzealous lenten fast that could turn out to be a bit much.
The first Friday of lent is always tough for me. One of the lenten practices many at my church embrace involves fasting from Thursday after dinner until Friday dinner. It’s a simple fast in which we don’t eat food or snacks for 24 hours. My body wakes up expecting some food, and immediately lets me know about it. My heart wakes up cranky, wondering why I agreed to such a stupid discipline. I can’t be alone.
If you woke up this morning realizing that you cannot possibly live for six weeks without soda, or chocolate, or caffeine, or whatever your lenten fast was, don’t feel bad. Remember that nearly all growth comes as a result of failure not success. It’s not important to execute your plan for lent perfectly. It’s important to persevere and adapt and learn. If it’s Friday and you’ve already broken your commitment twice, dust yourself off, get back on the horse, and try again.
However, if the fast you’ve committed to turns out to be a serious stretch, and you know it’s never going to happen. Here’s a way to make the fast new every morning. Every week during Lent I’m going to post a list of daily practices, a fast-like practice for each day that could be a meaningful way for you to clear out room for God to come hijack your day a little bit. The list involves a different activity for each day that you can add to your daily routine (or take away from it). They are disciplines you can apply to the little things you already do throughout the day that are meant to change our normal behavioral patterns.
The hope is that a different lenten fast every day will help you to give yourself a break if you messed it up yesterday. God’s mercies are new every morning, right?
Remember the point of the lenten fast. When we change these patterns–take something away, add something new–we create space that God can inhabit. We agree to a posture of openness in which something new becomes possible. These suggestions may not always have an obvious spiritual implication, but the Spirit tends to work pretty well with things that are ambiguous. I’ll post a full 40 fasts for the season of lent. Here are the first four.
First Short Week During Lent
Wednesday: Go to a prayer service.
Find a church that does some sort of Ash Wednesday routine and go be a part of it. If the traditions and prayers seem strangely foreign to you, just roll with it. Embrace it. See if God can come teach you something new .
Thursday: Encourage someone you care about.
Take a few moments to write a card or email to someone you love. Tell them what they mean to you and why you are thankful for that relationship. Follow all the way through to hitting send, or dropping the card in the mail (don’t leave it to another day to send off).
Friday: Skip Lunch.
Instead of eating at midday, take a few moments to pray and then go back to work. If you have a lunch break during which you can take a few moments to be by yourself, then sit down with the psalms. Pick two of them and read through them slowly several times. Listen for God’s voice to you… and drink coffee… drink lots of coffee.
Saturday: A walk around the block.
At some point during the day go outside and take a walk around the block. If you normally walk the dog, don’t count that. If you normally walk around the block with someone, go by yourself. If you always walk around the block then take a new route, or go at a different time.
Sunday: Celebrate Resurrection.
Not everybody does it this way, but at Redemption our tradition is that we don’t fast on Sundays. Sunday is meant to be the day of week that we celebrate Resurrection. Every Sunday is a feast day, not a fast day. So feast! If you gave up chocolate for lent, go to the QT, grab that Snickers bar and go to town.