Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is February 28th and Ash Wednesday is March 1st. This marks the beginning of the 40 day period leading up to Easter. Fat Tuesday has turned into a no-holds-barred party of indulging in anything and everything that anyone would like in preparation for deprivation starting the next day—with or without the ashes—and somehow the meaning of this special time has been lost—but it doesn’t have to be.
When I was a little girl, my best friend would eat fish on Friday during Lent. I never really understood what the fish was all about (and I never asked) but I thought it was a cool idea, so I tried to do it, too. The funny thing was that I liked fish, and my Mom cooked fish often, so eating it on Friday was not really a big deal for me. I certainly didn’t get the idea that I was “giving up” anything. But I never forgot this ritual that my friend followed, and as I matured in age and in faith, I grew to think seriously about what I might want to “give up” during a season when I wanted to meditate on what Christ gave up for me when he died on the cross in my place. In recent years I have particularly chosen to give up something that I enjoyed often enough that I would think about it often. I determined that each time I wanted the item that I have given up, I would intentionally stop and pray and fix my eyes on Jesus, lifting up a prayer of thankfulness for his grace.
The most effective thing I have ever given up was “Starbucks” because each time I would drive past the Starbucks stores that exist on practically every corner, I was reminded of the real reason for the Easter season and I sent up those prayers of gratitude constantly.
So whether you’ve given up something for Lent in the past or whether you’ve never given up anything for Lent, I challenge you to do it this year with a new perspective. Start now, no matter how far we are into the season of Lent when you read this.
1. Give up an attitude— Is there a bad attitude that creeps into your mind again and again? Make a plan to “give it up” for Lent. For example, each time you are tempted to be ungrateful, say to yourself – no—I’m giving that up for Lent and replace the ungratefulness with a prayer of thanks.
2. Give up a distraction– Is there something that grabs your attention and sucks you in, causing you to waste precious time? Consider what that might be and then when it calls your name say, no—for 40 days I am not going to use my time to do that, I am going to do _____ instead. You could choose to pray, to work on memorizing a passage of Scripture or find someone to encourage. (I promise you that you will get a lot of praying or Bible memory done in the next 40 days—and you might even quit a bad habit in the process! If you’re looking for a place to start, you might consider a prayer journal like this one: 40 Days of Art & Literature: A Prayer Journal)
3. Give up a frustration– Is there something you’ve been trying to do in your own power and it is just not happening? Spend the next 40 days letting God have control—intentionally giving your frustrations to him—then watch him work—and change your heart in the process!
4. Give up some kind of sustenance– Give up something you love to eat or drink, and when you do, remember that every time you think about wanting that item, replace wanting that “sustenance” with wanting the true sustenance of Jesus Christ. He is the bread of life and the living water. If giving up something for 40 days brings you closer to him for 40 days, it is 40 days well spent! (and you just might get healthier in the process!)
Jeannie Blocher is the Founder and President Emeritus of Body & Soul Fitness. She is an ACE certified fitness professional and faculty member, and currently serves as the Director of Spiritual Impact for Body & Soul. She is the author of Make Today Your Best Day Ever and Encouragement for the Body and the Soul, and speaks to women’s groups inspiring them to grow in faith & fitness.