Lent Isn't About Denial; Its About Transformation

This week we begin our journey through Lent.  For thousands of years, Christians have used this season as a time to examine our lives, our relationship with God, and ultimately our faith. 

It’s not uncommon for people to give something up during this season in order to refocus our lives on God.  By fasting from certain things, we practice dying to ourselves and those things that distract us from living more fully.  But I wonder if sometimes we lose sight of the purpose and the reason we do these things, and therefore miss out on the meaning of Lent.  The question becomes, “what are you giving up for Lent?” as if that is what the season is about. We end up denying ourselves something for the sake of denial. We give up chocolate or Facebook, thinking the act of denial is the purpose of Lent. And we end up missing the point.

But Lent isn’t about denial; it is about transformation.  Transformation is about letting ourselves be filled with God’s presence so that we can be shaped by God’s grace.  

Author and Blogger Julie Clawson once wrote this:

Transformation is about letting ourselves be filled with God’s presence so that we can be shaped by God’s grace. Our acts of kenosis — denying ourselves in order to empty ourselves enough to allow God to fill us — are means to an end. They are disciplines that prepare us to be transformed. We deny ourselves so that we can be reborn as new creations — to live more fully as the kingdom citizens God desires us to be.
So I am very tentative in choosing what disciplines I will follow during Lent to open myself up to God’s transforming power. I’ve discovered that for me personally, legalistic denial for the sake of denial often achieves the opposite purpose. Giving up coffee doesn’t make me a better follower of Christ, it just makes me more irritable. Giving up Facebook doesn’t help me build community in the body of Christ; it simply helps me as a detached introverted person creep further into my shell. Those disciplines don’t assist me in emptying myself in order to let God in; they simply fill me with more of me.
I’ve come to learn that in order to become more fully the person God wants me to be, I instead need to make sacrifices that actually allow me to achieve those ends. Often those sacrifices are less about personal denial, and more about following disciplines that encourage me to love others more.

Keeping this in mind the question shifts from “what am I giving up for Lent?” to “what can I do to allow God to transform me this season?”  This allows us to focus on the ultimate purpose behind why we engage in certain disciplines, lest we miss their very point!  

With this in mind, I offer 40 ideas to observe Lent.  These are just ideas and suggestions – some my own and some I’ve gleaned from others.  Try one each day:

1.    Invite people you love but don’t spend enough time with over for dinner one evening.
2.    Write a note to someone just because. Try actually writing it and putting it in the snail mail.
3.    Choose a single day to focus on how many times you say the word, “I”.
4.    Place random Post-It notes with encouraging messages around your house for your family to find.
5.    Put a list of things for which you are grateful in your pocket.  Take it out and read it every time you find yourself complaining.
6.    Do something nice anonymously.
7.    Reread your favorite book or the book that you first fell in love with.
8.    Make a list of three things you do well and enjoy doing.
9.    Spend at least 30 minutes with someone under the age of 5, or over the age of 70.
10.    Have a conversation with someone you wouldn’t normally talk with.
11.    Call someone with whom you’ve had a falling out and make amends.
12.    Clean out a closet and donate the stuff you don’t use to charity.
13.    Go for a walk in your neighborhood and pray for everyone you see.
14.    Do something that you’ve been putting off or trying to avoid.
15.    Make a donation to Week of Compassion or our church’s ‘Helping Hands’ fund.
16.    Pray before every meal.
17.    Read “Learning to Walk in the Dark" and join our Lenten study group on Wednesday nights.
18.    Collect your pocket change and give it to a good cause.
19.    Commute in silence.
20.    Pray for someone you need to forgive.
21.    Eat a meal of only rice and beans – while you eat, pray for the hungry of the world.
22.    Send a note to someone in your church or family that could use encouragement.
23.    Write a prayer to God explaining some of the habits and behaviors you want to die to.
24.    Go a day without sending text messages or email – and instead just call.
25.    Plant flowers.
26.    Fast from the radio or music while in the car.
27.    Take a nap.
28.    Don’t check email for 24 hours.
29.    Pray for your neighbors… especially those you don’t like.
30.    Take flowers to someone ‘just because.’
31.    Go for a walk.
32.    On a clear day drive to the top of Mt. Diablo or Grizzly Peak.
33.    Greet another as your dog greets you.
34.    Write a thank you note.
35.    Fast from listening or watching the news, and notice if your anxiety level changes.
36.    Choose one day to pray five times – at 9a, 12p, 3p, 6, and 9p – as our Muslim friends do. 
37.    Don’t go out to eat and give what you would normally spend anonymously to someone you know who needs it.
38.    Read that book you’ve been meaning to read.
39.    Pray for the person behind you in the grocery store.
40.    Call your minister and volunteer to help in a project or ministry around the church!

As we make our journey through Lent, may we choose disciplines and practices that help us become the kind of people God desires us to be.  May they bring life, and not a burden.  And may you live so you are able to love… and love so you are able to live.