How to get the most out of your Lent

How do you get the most out of your Lent?

I don't know about you, but every year I think "I'm going to be prepared for Lent, I'm going to come up with a killer fast and I'll do it every day and I'll gain so many brownie points in Heaven" and then Ash Wednesday rolls around and I think "ok already a day behind, what can I do, what can I do?"  And it goes on and on and on and on and on, I'm never prepared and I rarely follow through and Lent comes and goes and I wave goodbye.

If you're like me, then read on!  If you're a Lent Warrior then share this blog with a friend who maybe doesn't do so well with the whole fasting thing because it doesn't have to be like this!

Here are some of the common mistakes I've made in the past:

Mistake #1:  Trying to go "too big"
Each year I think how can I go bigger than last year?  Every so often I hear about a friend giving up meat or only eating bread and water (you crazy btw) and I wonder the ways I can top their fast and do something better.

Solution:  Do what is accomplishable.  If sitting down and praying for 5 minutes each night is doable for you then do it.  Don't think that you have to do a whole Rosary, or pray for a whole hour to be holy - make a goal that suits you and strive each day to achieve it.  Yes, it should be challenging you to grow, but it should also be accomplishable.  Plan what will work for you, don't set yourself up for failure by going too big.

Mistake #2:  Waiting until the last minute to make a plan
I am a world-class procrastinator - sure I have good intention, but often my good intention turns to diddly squat.  When I wait until the night before (or maybe even a few days into Lent, yikes!) to decided on a fast or prayer I choose something that sounds good, rather than the thing that will draw me closer to holiness.

Solution:  Don't wait until the night before Ash Wednesday to decide on a fast.  Give yourself a few days to think and pray about what areas in your spiritual life you want to grow in and the ways you can challenge yourself.  A great question to ask yourself is "what are some of the things I tell myself I need but really don't?  And how can I give up those things to make room for prayer or growth in my spiritual life?"  You've made a great step already by reading this blog now take the next few days to evaluate all the aspects of your life and pray for the Spirit to help you choose the fast that's right for you!

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you pray and prepare:

  1. On Easter, how do I want to be different?  What kind of person do I want to become?
  2. Is there a habit/sin that repeatedly gets in the way of my relationship with God and others?  How can I address this over the next 40 days?
  3. Is there anyone I need to forgive or ask forgiveness from?  Can I make a commitment to speak to this person and pray for resolution?
  4. What practical steps can I take to carve out time for daily prayer?  What activity can I give up or cut back on to make room for prayer?  What space can I designate as a prayer corner?
  5. What are some things I tell myself I need but I don't?  Can I give 1 or 2 of those things up for 40 days?
  6. Why am I giving up this thing?  How does giving it up for 40 days draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter?
  7. What do I tell myself when it gets hard?  Who do I turn to when I want to quit?
  8. How can I commit to praying more this Lent?  Is there a specific prayer I can say each day?
  9. Who am I offering this fast for? (Uniting your fast to a specific intention will give you the strength to stick to the fast when it gets hard.)
  10. How can I give my time, talent and money?  (It does not need to be much, but how can you give alms this Lent?  Maybe it's buying extra groceries each week to donate to a local food shelter, or maybe it's collecting all the $5 bills you get, putting them in a jar and donating the money at the end of the season, or maybe you can give your time to a service each week - be creative and remember, do what is accomplishable.)

Mistake #3:  Keeping my fast a secret
We hear in the Bible that when fasting we should be sure to look clean and well so that no one knows our suffering and that the right hand shouldn't know what the left hand is doing.  When Lent rolls around I often keep my fast a secret so no one knows what I am sacrificing - the problem is, no one knows when I'm not doing it.

Solution:  Tell someone - your best friend, your spouse, your bus driver, your Priest.  We are not perfect and we need help.  Telling someone about your fast will allow them to keep you accountable.  A simply check in "how's your fast going, were you able to stick to it today?" will go a long way in keeping you honest and disciplined in this season.  This also keeps you from "cheating" on your fast.  I had a friend who was giving up chocolate and tried to convince me that white chocolate wasn't included in the fast because it's not technically cocoa - we resolved that she was making an excuse and trying to short cut her fast!

You don't have to tell every person what you're doing but if a few people know how to help you and can share with you about your fast then chances are you'll do a better job at sticking to your fast.
 

Those are just some of the tips I have for you as we prepare for this season of Lent.  Lent is a beautiful opportunity for us to recommit to our faith and to the people we want to become, people more like Jesus.  It reminds us that we are imperfect and in need of help and this is a good thing because our God is waiting for us with an ocean of Mercy.

Keep an eye out for more tips and tricks and fast ideas to come and be sure to check out one of the links below for daily Lenten devotions.

Our Favorite Lent Resources

  • Best Lent Ever - sign up to receive daily videos and meditations from the Dynamic Catholic team.  This year's Best Lent Ever will feature the book Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly.  To get your copy of the book head to our offices - they're free and sign up for Best Lent Ever here.
  • Lent Reflections with Bishop Robert Barron - Bishop Barron, the creator of Word on Fire ministries and The Catholicism Project series, offers reflections for each day of Lent.  Sign up for Bishop Barron's Lent Reflections here.
  • Living Lent Daily - This Lent, foster a daily practice of spiritual calm where God is at the center.  Living Lent Daily is a daily e-mail series delivering fresh reflections based on the Scriptures of Lent.  Sign up for Living Lent Daily here.
  • Redeemed Online - What are you doing for Lent this year?  How about you #ShareJesus.  Each day you will receive an email with a video from a different speaker about how to better share Jesus in your life.  Sign up for Redeemed Online here.
  • Fr. Matt William's Daily Lenten Reflection - Join Fr. Matt Wiliams, from the Office of Spiritual Life for the Archdiocese of Boston, as he posts daily video reflections on his youtube page.  Click here to follow Fr. Matt Williams.
  • Fr. Mike Schmitz on Ascension Presents - Each Thursday, find a new video from Fr. Mike Schmitz, chaplain at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, and don't miss out on a Catholic answer to many of life's important questions.  Sign up to follow Fr. Mike's video's here.

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