I get this question from many of my friends about this time of year and it is always somewhat surprising to me.
Lent is a season in many Christian denominations that remembers when Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert and was tempted many times by Satan (see Matthew 4 for details). After 40 days, the devil left him and he returned to his life and ministry in Israel. Christians remember this time with prayer and fasting, and it culminates in the celebration of Holy Week and Easter. Easter remembers Jesus’ death and resurrection; which is arguably the biggest holiday in the church calendar.
When someone asks me what I am giving up, my instinct is always to ask, “why do I have to give something up?” In years past, I always gave up Coca-Cola or all sugared beverages for Lent. For forty days, excluding some youth groups on Sundays, I would do my best to kick my caffeine and sugar addiction. However, it always ended Easter Sunday, when I returned to drinking soda, often in greater quantities than I had forty days ago.
Fasting is just one of many spiritual disciplines taught by the church. Others include prayer, reading the Bible, and different types of meditation. Many people follow the example of giving something up as a simple reading of the Bible because they are fasting from a vice for a time.
This all changed when one of my spiritual mentors re-framed Lent for me. Instead of giving something up, he said, see Lent as a time to take on something new. This could be a discipline of fasting, like Jesus did, but it could also be a discipline of prayer, reading scripture, exercise, getting to bed on time, or dozens of other small changes in habit that end up being beneficial to you.
This year, I have taken on a spiritual discipline of daily prayer. I try and read compline–a service in the Book of Common Prayer in the Episcopal Church–every night before bed. I pray Monday nights with other students in the chapel at 10:15 PM (all are welcome to join!). Also, I try and make it to other religious services on campus and in the community as well.
Some of my friends have taken on their own spiritual practices. Zachary Wright has taken on a different spiritual practice. Wright reads Galatians 5 every morning as he starts his day. Chaplain Chris has taken on a discipline of shaving every day, and reads a prayer as he shaves to start his day. Bridget Gautieri has taken on the discipline of giving up cursing for Lent and Katie Simmons gave up using elevators for Lent.
I encourage each of you to take up something new for the remainder of this Lenten season. Maybe you’ll give up elevators, or say a prayer in the morning to God. You do not have to give something up to get something out of Lent; it can be a good time to try out a new habit, or kick a bad habit. It also gives us a bit of time to give thanks and reflect on our lives. So try something new, and see what you can do for Lent.