The Catholic kids on Long Island gave up chocolate for Lent—at least that’s what they said. I grew up in a church without Lent. Most of our band of believers had gotten fed up with being Lutherans or Catholics or Methodists, so they wanted nothing to do with high holy days, like Ash Wednesday, or church seasons, like Lent. I don’t blame them. Most of the Catholic guys on my baseball team—Ash Wednesday hit during the bracing late winter days of high school baseball, when we stood on the field frozen—would come to practice with ashes on their forehead then act like buttheads, especially on the weekend, when they’d gather near the football field stands and get totally wasted.
I’m older now and more in need of the church’s rhythm to keep my moral compass and my devotion in tact. So I practice Lent. I need Lent. And so do you. It’s a touchstone, a season when we attend to our interior life. We can paint the house and mow the lawn in summer. Now it’s winter, when we vacuum the carpets and clean the toilets. We ask ourselves, “How cozy is my inside? Or how bleak?”
Would someone want to join me here, in my interior, in my soul, and cozy up for an evening, munching chocolate (yes, chocolate in Lent, at least in my soul) chip cookies in front of a sizzling fire? Does my soul invite people in? Or would people come to my soul and say, “Gotta go!”
That question takes us from our soul’s disposition to our body’s practices. What do I do to make myself receptive to God? And that’s where giving things up that get in the way comes in. Giving up chocolate for instance—a reminder for forty days that we don’t need that small luxury, however much we crave it.
The practice of giving up makes us attentive to our interior life—to what we crave or have grown simply used to—in ways that life as usual can’t. It’s a calling attention to, a small withdrawal, which reminds us of what matters.
So what’s for Lent this year? Or better yet, What’s not for Lent this year? What is one item that will remind you, every time you do without it, that your interior demands attention? What is one practice that will prompt you to recognize the presence of God?
Let me give you a few examples.
- 40 days without chocolate, of course. About ten years ago, when I gave up chocolate for Lent, I didn’t think it would matter a bit. Then I found myself salivating—actually salivating—when I stirred Hershey’s chocolate into my son Jeremy’s chocolate milk. Those moments proved to be small reminders of what I didn’t need—and what I do.
- 4 minutes without your phone. In a symbolic gesture, put down your phone when you think you can’t do without it. Maybe for just 4 minutes–40 if you’ve got the guts–try limiting your access to social media—or email—once a day.
- 4 breaks in the action. Just 30 seconds or a minute, 4 times a day. Say the Lord’s prayer. Or maybe stand, stretch, and say to yourself (and God), “Glory be to the father, and to the son, and to the holy spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen!” Or memorize a Bible verse to say 4 times a day: “I will sing to the LORD a new song!” Or, for that matter, the verse of a hymn or chorus that attunes you to your inner life; try that when you wake up, at lunch, before dinner, and right before bed. Or maybe just breathe—big, deep breaths. Small reminders of your inner life. Nearly imperceptible—but not, for that reason insignificant—reminders of your interior self.
You get the point. In Lent, we receive the opportunity to focus—and refocus. What matters. What doesn’t. So, whether we choose to do something for 40 days or 4 minutes, whether we give something up or add something new, we will, invariably, inevitably, shore up our inner life.
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