5 Things to Take Up This Lent
Lent doesn’t always mean forbidding ourselves pleasure; it can be an opportunity to seek the pleasure of God’s love and presence.
Every Lent my teenage daughters give something up—or at least consider it.
It’s the usual things. Chocolate. Pop. A favorite TV show. Once Lulu gave up meat. Last year, Charlotte renounced caffeine, a sacrifice she found especially challenging since it meant going without her beloved Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar.
Still, she told me, it was easier than the other act of self-denial she’d been contemplating: “no technology”—that is, 40 days without Facebook or texting.
“But why are you doing it? What does it mean?” I routinely ask, hoping for some impressive spiritual motive.
Penitence, perhaps, or the desire to share in Jesus’ suffering. Judging from their answers (the universal teenage non-answer, “Just ’cuz”) and their spotty success, I’m guessing the closest they come to any spiritual goal is guilt.
“I know it’s supposed to make me think about God,” Charlotte told me last year as we neared Easter, “but, to be honest, it doesn’t always.”
Thinking about God is what Lent’s about. Having discovered my faith after spending two decades abstaining from everything God-related—decades of lonely, hungry atheism that might be called “my long Lent”—I like to devote the Lenten period to seeking out and indulging in God’s presence.
Lent doesn’t always mean forbidding ourselves some pleasure. It can be an opportunity to seek the pleasure of God’s presence.
One of the simplest and most immediate ways for me to get a sense of God’s presence is to go outside and look for it.
Although I live out in the country, I’m indoors much of the time, often spending whole days—in my office at the university where I teach, in my house, in stores—barely aware of the weather or what’s growing or what birds are singing.
To remind myself of God’s omnipresence, I plan outdoor time: a trip across campus for my mail instead of having it delivered, a long run on the country roads near my house, a magically relaxing moment of bird watching.
My garden has always been for me what Celtic believers call a “thin place”: a place where the membrane between our world and God seems particularly thin.
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When I’m out turning the cold wet dirt with my spade or sowing early seeds—spinach, radishes, peas—or harvesting the slender onions that volunteer themselves to the sunlight after the long winter, I connect with the presence of the One who created it all.
Spend time with others
Another place where I’m sure to find God is in others, specifically those who are—or should be—the recipients of my generosity and compassion.
The needy themselves, according to Jesus, are God. In answer to his disciples’ questions about what to expect at the end of time, Jesus envisions himself enthroned in heaven, dividing the nations into two groups: those who showed him hospitality when he was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and alone, and those who did not.