It’s Ash Wednesday today, which for Christians means the beginning of the Lenten season. Whether you observe Lent or have always been curious about this religious season, it’s a wonderful time to enrich your spiritual life and learn more about the traditions surrounding Lent.
Let’s start with the basics. Lent is the 40-day period, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter Sunday on the Christian calendar. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter (this year Easter falls on April 5). The number of days has symbolic significance in that 40 days was the period of time that Jesus spent fasting in the desert, enduring temptations. It is a period marked by solemnity and sacrifice, as Christians reflect on the trials and persecution that Jesus endured, including his crucifixion and death.
Interesting Fact: Lent comes from the Old English word for “spring.”
The three areas of faith that Christians emphasize during Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, representing justice to God, to oneself, and to one’s neighbors. Today, many Christians apply these practices by replacing a personal indulgence, such as junk food or television, with a behavior that will draw them closer to God, such as reading a daily devotional or attending mass. Donating time and money to charitable organizations is another wonderful way to celebrate Lent.
Did You Know? Mardi Gras, which translates as Fat Tuesday, always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday. Originally, Christians feasted on this day in order to use up the rich foods and sweets in their homes, so they wouldn’t be tempted during Lent.
The practice of giving something up for Lent can take many forms, but ultimately, it’s a way of deepening one’s connection to God and spirituality through sacrifice, discipline and prayer. It’s common for people to give up things like sweets, but if you’re not keen on giving up chocolate for 40 days, there are plenty of other ways to celebrate Lent. In fact, you don’t necessarily have to swear something off – you can commit to adding a healthy, faith-based behavior to your daily routine instead. The important thing is that it should be challenging, whether you give up something you really enjoy or do something that challenges you physically, mentally, or spiritually. The goal should be to turn your life in a more positive, spiritual direction, and the more effort it takes, the more meaningful and powerful your experience is bound to be.
With that in mind, here are 10 unconventional ways to celebrate Lent this year:
5 Creative Things to Give Up for Lent
1. Texting – Use your phone to call your friends and family instead of texting them. It will bring you closer and make their day to hear your voice!
2. Negativity – Resist the tendency to think pessimistically. Actively replace self-defeating thoughts with optimistic ones. Do affirmations every morning before you start your day or anytime you start to feel discouraged. And when all else fails, fake it ’til you make it: practice saying positive things, and pretty soon you’ll start to really feel more positive.
3. Sleeping in – Swear off the snooze button, put your phone across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off, do whatever it takes; you’ll gain discipline and more time to enjoy the day God made.
4. Vanity – Simplify your wardrobe by picking out 5 tops and 5 bottoms to wear during Lent. Set a limit on the amount of time you spend getting ready in the morning, and spend the time and effort you save doing something nice for someone else – you’ll feel like a million bucks!
5. Complaining – When you catch yourself complaining or just feeling negative, make a quick gratitude list of 10 things you’re grateful for. It’s a surefire way to improve your mood and lift your spirits.
5 Creative Things to Do for Lent
1. Pray – Before you make a decision, take a few minutes to pray about it instead of just acting. Whenever you feel stressed and anxious, say a quick prayer for faith and patience. If someone does something that upsets you, instead of reacting in anger or nurturing resentment, try praying for that person to become happy. Start each day by asking for help being the best person you can be, and end each night by thanking God for the blessing of another day.
2. Meditate – Sometimes we need to quiet our minds in order to hear God talking. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier than usual and spend the time in quiet reflection, without distractions, just listening to what’s there. Just make sure you’re sitting up straight, or you might fall asleep!
3. Give Compliments – Make a point to say something nice to someone every day, and really mean it. You can get creative with your compliments – leave an anonymous note on their desk, send a random affirmation email to someone who won’t be expecting it, or just spend some time listening to a friend – it’s the best way to show them that they are important to you.
4. Volunteer – Find interesting ways to give your time in service of others. It doesn’t have to be formal, though soup kitchens and food pantries are always in need of volunteers and that’s a great place to start. Or you could offer to babysit for free, visit an elderly neighbor for an hour each week, cook a meal for someone who’s sick, or clean out the office fridge without telling anyone.
5. Adopt an Exercise Routine – This shouldn’t be about vanity, so forget your weight loss goals for a moment and focus instead on treating your body like a temple. Taking care of yourself is a wonderful way to express gratitude to God for your life. Push yourself to challenge your limits physically and mentally, and you might discover inner strength you never knew you had.
Well, now that you’ve heard my suggestions for celebrating Lent, I’d love to hear from you. What are you giving up or doing for Lent this year? Tell me in the comments. If you’re looking for unique ways to express your faith year round, we offer a variety of inspirational collectibles, religious keepsakes and more beautifully crafted celebrations of faith. Meanwhile, thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing from you about your Lenten journey!10 Creative Ways to Celebrate Lent (without Giving Up Chocolate) by Ann Kelley