Ah, Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent, the day we make promises to give something up, the night the preacher applies smudgy ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality (although we may be practicing a do-it-yourself version at home due to COVID-19).
Whether your church observes Lent or not, these next 40 days could be a vigorous workout for a spiritual life that has gone flabby. Why not stretch your soul by reaching for God, strengthen your heart by walking in the Spirit? Giving up something harmful is never a bad idea (like walking away from cake or candy), but taking on something can be beneficial, too (like eating your Brussels sprouts).
Here are four suggestions on what you can do to exercise your inner life during Lent:
DIAGNOSE YOUR SPIRITUAL HEALTH
Take a long, hard look inward. Has your soul grown lazy or despondent during these times of quarantine? Maybe it’s time for a wake-up call by adopting a time-honored spiritual habit. Read a daily scripture or go through the ancient practice of lectio divina. Find a resource that will guide you through daily prayer. Read a quality devotional.
FAST FROM NEGATIVE TALK
It’s a common Lenten practice to give up fattening treats during Lent, but how about giving up something that can bless others, too – negative talk? Christians should take extra care in what comes out of our mouths (and fingertips when we’re tempted to post that snide remark on social media), because the Bible is not unambiguous about the power of words. James 3 describes the tongue as a fire that can burn down a forest and a restless evil, dripping with poison. Lent is a perfect time to analyze whether we are burning others down or building them up with our words.
Talking heads on TV. Buzzing cellphones. Blaring videos on the computer. It seems that we are uncomfortable with silence nowadays, but it’s taking a toll on our health. The World Health Organization, which has been tracking noise levels for over a decade, described noise pollution as an “underestimated threat” that can contribute to stress, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Here’s a thought that might be scary, but why not give it a whirl? Unplug. Turn off your phone and radio during your commute. Set a strict time limit on your TV watching and pick up a book during your down time. Retreat to a quiet room in your house and pray, or take a walk in nature and soak in God’s creation. Remember that Jesus often withdrew from the masses to tune into the voice of His Heavenly Father.
FORTY FOR OTHERS
I saw a poster the other day that said, “Love is what we are doing when we stop thinking about ourselves.” So think of others this Lent: post 40 encouraging things a day on the Facebook pages of your friends, make 40 phone calls to the important people in your life, donate $40 to a local food bank. God wants to work through you during this time of Lent and beyond – so let Him!