Lent, the Christian season of reflection and renewal, is an opportunity to step back and take a good, hard, 40-day look at our spiritual lives. It doesn’t matter if we give something up or pledge to do something good for others, what matters is that whatever we decide helps us grow a deeper awareness of ourselves, our world, and our God.
For me, the days leading up to Lent can be real head scratchers. What should I do this Lent to grow spiritually? I stress about it for a few days, and then I realize it’s really quite simple: pause, pray and reach out to others. That’s it! Here are five spiritual touchstones we can all lean on during these days leading up to Easter.
Claim a personal mantra
Mantras—originally from the religious practices of Hindus and Buddhists—are simple words or phrases that can help deepen prayer or meditation. A mantra can help ground an individual in the moment, setting aside the mental to-do list that often sneaks into quiet reflection.
My current mantra is a piece of Scripture; I use a portion of Psalm 46:10: “Be still—breathe in—and know—breathe out.” I repeat this when I’m entering into prayer, if I need to calm down after a stressful meeting, or if I need to catch my breath while my baby daughter is crying. Take some time to decide on a mantra you can reach for this Lent when you want to remind yourself of your spiritual journey.
Create weekly intentions
My wife and I—before the birth of our daughter—used to lead faith-sharing groups, small groups of friends that met in our home to talk about faith and spirituality. My wife would often ask participants to think of an intention for the week. She wasn’t looking for something huge—our friends didn’t have to skip their morning coffee or give away all their money. It was about thinking simply. Call your parents, she might say. Take five minutes to sit in silence. Go for a walk.
The purpose of weekly intentions is to provide little markers to reflect on each week. For example, a week where I pledged to spend five minutes in silence each morning helped me realize that I was actually really tired and that I needed a little more self-care. As I progressed through future weeks, I reflected back on that first week, checking-in with myself to see how if I was allowing more time for rest.
Express gratitude daily
When I’m grateful, I have little room in my heart for anger or judgment. So when colleagues are getting on my nerves or a particular situation sets me off, pausing to give thanks for the talents that colleague brings to the table or the opportunity present in a trying situation can help me reorient myself to the positive.
That’s why gratitude is an important virtue to cultivate. And it’s not hard! At the end of each day, write down one thing you’re grateful for. Again, we’re not looking for spiritual memoirs. Something simple: It was free coffee day at Dunkin’ Donuts. The train came on time. The train was late, and I got more time to read. Whatever made your day a little better.
Give and receive forgiveness
Christianity is all about forgiveness—and Lent is the season to celebrate it! Yet, how many of us wallow in judgements over others? How many of us refuse to let ourselves off the hook for a perceived shortcoming?
Lent is a good time to pay particular attention to our own tendencies to judge and hold grudges. Are we clinging to something? Perhaps these 40 days present an opportunity to concretely give and receive forgiveness, maybe through a conversation that’s been a long time in coming, or maybe even going to confession.
Pray in community
Finally, Lent is a journey that shouldn’t be undertaken alone. You might have time to commit to weekly faith-sharing groups; you might not. You might be a frequent church attendee; you might not. No matter where you fall, these 40 days present a unique opportunity to share in the spirituality of others. Go to Mass one time more than you normally would. Invite a friend to grab a coffee and chat about the things going on in your heart. Whatever it is, commit to be with others on this journey, to offer your support, and to be open to learning from what others can share.
Originally published February 13, 2018.