Lenten Disciplines

Because Lent is focused on confession and repentance, it’s natural to think that a Lenten is a time punishment. Yet the Hebrew root word of “repentance” means “to return” and “to feel sorrow.” The best example of “repentance” is the story of the Prodigal Son on his journey home. He felt sorrow for having left his family and chosen a life that led only to poverty and loneliness. That sorrow motivated him to return home where he could be reunited with his father and brother and be of service to the community once again.

The Greek root of “repentance” literally means “after/behind one’s mind”. A better translation is “to think differently after”. Repentance, therefore, is an action that moves us into a different and better way of thinking. Thus, our previous way of thinking was incorrect or, at best, incomplete. We realize we aren’t acting with the best intentions, the best thoughts in mind, and need to change our thinking for better actions in the future.

How does understanding “repentance” in this way change the way you consider your Lenten discipline? What about your capacity to be transformed this season of Lent? Repentance at its core is an act of hopefulness and faith. We believe we have the capacity to transform, to desire to return, and we have faith that God will forever wait for us with open arms. So what of those Lenten disciplines? Yes, they should be challenging. Yes, they should demand hard work, focus, and sacrifice. But so, too, should they move us to introspection and mindfulness.

Lenten disciplines are meant to be triggers to call our attention to our relationship with God and how we might strengthen it. This is one of the reasons I like taking up a new activity rather than giving up something. If I’m feeling ambitious one year, I might do both by fasting for one day a week and picking up a new activity. There are many resources available to help us think creatively about the season. Here are some resources and ideas that I have seen floating around that are worth a look:

40 bags in 40 days: This also can be 40 items in 40 days. The idea is that everyday you pick an item in your house or fill a bag with items that are things you don’t use anymore but haven’t let go of for some reason or another. At the end of the 40 days you donate the items to a local charity. The idea is that over 40 days you declutter your life with greater intentionality.

Making Crosses: The idea is that you make crosses with objects you find in your everyday life. You’d be amazed how beautifully a few simple items can be transformed into the symbol of salvation. Yoga, Tai-Chi, or Meditation: This one is always beneficial. We live in an increasingly fast-paced world, one that rarely gives us time to breathe, much less think. Committing to time every day for reflection and quiet can be invaluable.

40 Days of 40 Acts of Kindness: Every day in Lent find one thing you otherwise wouldn’t have done that will help someone else.

Lent By Heart: This book guides you through memorizing Mark’s account of the passion narrative. Similarly, there are countless books out there containing daily meditations or reflections on scripture.

Develop a Rule of Life: Our monastic brothers and sisters live by a rule of life that guides their daily behavior. Lent is a good time to undertake the self-assessment, thoughtfulness, and candidness for creating your own rule of life. The C.S. Lewis Institute provides a brief guide on their website for how to go about this: http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/338

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of ideas but should get you thinking creatively about how you might make the most of this season.

God’s blessing for a Lent filled with repentance and hope!


Thank you to Reverend Mary R. H. Demmler