How To Have a Last-Minute Lent

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_1I’ve been there; we’ve all been there.  

First, the candy starts appearing in the convenience and grocery stores.  The bulbous Reese’s Eggs and the shimmering Yellow Peeps.

People start making plans for Spring Break.  Road trips to the beach or the nearby amusement park.

March Madness comes and goes.  Baseball season begins.

The sun returns; the leaves re-appear; your winter coat gets packed away.

Then, one Sunday, you arrive at church to find everyone holding palms and the pastor talking about extra parking for the holiday services.

Easter is right around the corner.  

And, you didn’t even see it coming.

Such is life.  It gets busy.  You really did mean to prepare for Easter thoughtfully and faithfully.  You just didn’t get around to it.

It’s okay.  I’ve been there.  We’ve all been there.

And, the good news is: you haven’t missed it yet!  You’ve still got time!

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_2So, how can you make the most of the next few days?  How can you prepare to truly experience the beauty of the Last Supper, the sorrow of Good Friday, and the joy of the Resurrection?

1. Give Up Something You Love.

Intentional sacrifice reminds us how deeply we need and desire Christ.  I gave up desserts for Lent this year, and I am looking forward to Easter with all of my physical senses.  Its sweet scent.  Its cool texture.  The colorful sprinkles.  I’m desiring the Resurrection in spirit and body.

Since there isn’t too much time before Easter, consider giving up something you enjoy routinely.  Like meat or bread or alcohol or coffee.  Give up something you consume regularly, and you’ll be craving Easter asap.

2. Give Away Something You Want to Keep.

Almsgiving has long been part of the Lenten tradition.  Instead of giving a monetary donation or doing volunteer work, consider giving away something you really like. When we feel the pain of sacrifice, we better appreciate Christ’s costly sacrifice for us.

Some possible ideas:

  • Donate one of your favorite pieces of clothing to Goodwill.
  • Give one of your favorite mugs or books to a friend who is struggling right now.
  • Buy a snack or coffee for a friend or colleague with whom you’re struggle right now.
  • Grant forgiveness to someone from whom you’ve been refusing it.
  • Intentionally give your sins to Christ.

3. Read the Scriptures Surrounding Easter.

Each of the Gospel writers has an account of the events surrounding Easter.  Consider starting with the Preparations for Passover and continuing through the Resurrection.

  • Matthew 26-28
  • Mark 14-16
  • Luke 22-24:12
  • John 13; 17-20:18

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_3

4. Attend an Additional Church Service.

The Resurrection on Sunday is only one part of the Easter story.  Many Protestant churches commemorate the Passion with a Good Friday service sometime between noon and three.  Some churches even present Living Stations.  Most Catholic churches also have special services on Thursday and Friday evening to mark the Last Supper and Good Friday.  

If you can’t make it to a church service, consider watching DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt or Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.  I’ll also be sharing a reflection here next week for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

5. Listen to Christian Music.

The background noises in our lives affect us in profound ways.  Try tuning into Christian music to keep your mind and heart oriented toward Christ.  I recommend checking out Gungor, Run River North, Emeli Sandí, or Punch Brothers.  Not all of these artists are “Christian” per se, but their songs delve into the spiritual themes.

6. Listen to Christian Podcasts.

A good podcast is a great way to restart or reassess your spiritual journey.  Right now, I’m enjoying The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey and Catholic Stuff You Should Know.  I also have a love-hate relationship with The Liturgists.

7. Pray daily.

Take 15 minutes apart from the chaos of daily life to soak in the peace and joy of Christ. If you need some guidance and structure, feel free to join me on Facebook Live each night through April 12th for Evening Prayer.  I also recommend the Pray-As-You-Go podcast.

A Final Note:

These Lenten practices, of course, are only a means to an end.  We do not keep them to satisfy some rule or to elevate our own status.  We keep them as a way to deepen our relationship with Christ.  The practices are the means; the relationship is the end.

Easter, with all its candies and brunches, will come regardless of your preparations for it or celebration of it.  Just like spring.  Just like baseball season.  Lent, however, offers us an opportunity to experience and appreciate that Easter holiday in a more meaningful way.  Even at the last minute.

So, buy the candy.  Put away your winter coat.  And, take a few minutes to pray.  God is right there.

4 Steps For A Better Prayer: Confession: ACTS Series

ACTS_ConfessionJune 2011.  Washington, DC.

I don’t have a car, so to get to work, I walk the half mile to the Metro and take a train into the city.  

Today, I am carrying my purse, with my book, makeup case, and wallet, on one shoulder.  On the other shoulder is a tote bag full of promotional brochure, pens, and signs from a recent work event.  In one hand is my lunch bag.  In the other hand is my travel mug.

As I walk up the hill by the park, I readjust the various shoulder straps and reallocate the weight.  While I wait to cross the street, I rub my aching shoulders.  I make a scene at the Metro Station, searching for my train pass.  

It is 7:30 in the morning, and I am already weighed down.

***

We all know what it is like to have burdens.  They can suffocate us.  They can exhaust us.  They can overwhelm us.  

We shrink under the weight of our burdens.  We vanish under the magnitude of our burdens. We lose our strength to keep moving.  We lose our desire to keep moving.

Sometimes, I feel like I have too many burdens to count, much less carry.  My anxiety disorder. My student loans.  My social obligations.  My chores at home.  My tasks for work.  

But my heaviest burden, by far, are my mistakes.  My regrets.  My sins.  

They make every single one of my other burdens even heavier to carry and harder to tackle.

They keep me from getting a good night’s sleep.  Then, they keep me from embracing the new day.

Many would tell you that, in order to live a life without regrets, you should take yourself and your world less seriously.  Ignore them.  Forget them.  Just let go of them.

God would tell you that, in order to live a life without regrets, you should take your sins to Him.  Acknowledge them.  Name them.  And, then, confess them.

King David, following his affair, offers the most beautiful confession in Psalm 51.  He begins,

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2, NRSV)

Jesus expresses a similar sentiment when leading instructing the crowds in the “Our Father.” He prays,

“And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

In the Catholic tradition, the Act of Contrition elaborates,

“In choosing to do wrong
and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you
whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.”

These words, of course, are neither easy nor enjoyable to say.  Examining our lives and confessing our sins can ignite nausea and tears.  We are pained by the pain we have caused to ourselves, to our neighbor, and to our God.  

Upon hearing our confession, God forgives us.  Upon hearing our confession, God frees us. To live.  To thrive.  To flourish.  For our own good.  And for the glory of God.

So, in your next prayer, stop carrying your sins.  Stop walking through life with all that extra weight.  Start living your life unburdened.  Or, in the words of the soulful Sanders Bohlke,

“Bring your weary soul to the altar
Close your eyes and bend your knees
Lay your worries and your burdens down.”

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

Why You Should Schedule Some Quiet Time Today

Processed with VSCO with m2 presetShe was a doer, always moving from one task to the next.  She was a caretaker, always serving others before herself.  She was a fixer, always trying to solve problems and right wrongs.  She was an inspiration but also a caution.  She was selfless but also restless.  

She loved the idea but hated the actual practice of quiet time.  When she sat in silence, she heard her own thoughts, her own fears, her own desires.  When she knelt in prayer, she heard God’s voice asking for things she did not know how to give.  In her quiet time, she was vulnerable, and in her vulnerability, she knew she could not do everything, could not fix everyone.  It was scary, and she was afraid, and so, she put it off.

Do you know this woman?  Me too.  

Are you this woman?  Me too.

***

Why You Should Schedule Quiet Time Today_2Perhaps, as with women like us, Jesus feared his quiet time.  Often unlike me, however, he prayed anyway.  Each of the Gospels shows Jesus leaving the crowds and taking time away, apart.  Even Mark, the most straightforward and succinct of the Gospel writers, describes how “in the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (1:35).

When I think of Jesus, I tend to think of all the things he did.  He taught with such wisdom!  He provided miraculous food and drink!  He healed bodies and spirits!  He resurrected the dead!  He was, in some ways, the definition of an over-achiever.  He was a doer, a caretaker, a fixer.  But, as the Gospels remind us, he was also a pray-er.  No one on earth has ever had – or will ever have – more important work to do for the world than Jesus… and even he took time away, apart to pray.

Jesus, however, is not the only one speaking to women like us.  Mark describes how Jesus’ popularity grew as traveled in and around Galilee, calling disciples, teaching in the synagogues, and performing miraculous healings.  After curing a possessed man, Jesus’ “fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” (1:28).  A little later, Jesus heals one of the disciple’s mothers and, before long, “the whole city was gathered around the door” (1:33).  When Jesus does take his quiet time, the disciples “hunt” for him.  That’s the exact word from the NRSV translation, “hunt.”  When the disciples finally find him, they say, “everyone is searching for you” (1:37).  So, Jesus continues on his tour, and by end of Mark’s first chapter, “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter” (1:45).

These crowds beg the question: do I pursue Jesus in the same way?  With the same fervor?  With the same tenacity?  Would I go so far as to hunt him, if he went away?  Would I plead with him to return, if we were apart?  

I imagine, if these crowds could speak to women like us, they would say: Jesus teaches! He provides!  He heals!  And what we would not give to sit in silence with him and him alone at any given moment of any given day.  

***

I understand the desire to act, to do.  I understand the resistance to sit in stillness and silence.  Mark, however, reminds us – implores us – to take time away, apart, anyway. Even when we don’t want to.  Even when we fear the sound of our thoughts or the voice of God.  Even when we would rather be doing and fixing than talking and listening.  Only then will we know what the crowds knew: Jesus teaches!  He provides!  He heals!  And he does it all not out of a desire for recognition or distraction.  He does it all because he loves us.  He loves women like us.

Why You Should Schedule Some Quiet Time Today (1)

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