by Blake McKinney

┬áPastor of First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, Mo.

I must confess that I’m pretty new to the practice of observing the season of Lent. My primary recollection of Lent from my childhood and teenage years is that it was the time of year that I was most thankful not to be Catholic. I would see my Catholic friends giving up chocolate for six weeks and having to eat fish every Friday, and I would feel sorry for them. When anyone asked me what I was giving up for Lent, I would give a snarky reply like “homework” or “Brussels sprouts.”

Now that I’m older (and hopefully a little wiser), I’ve realized that Lent is more than a cruel papal scheme to make Catholic kids miserable. It is a season of the year that has been observed for centuries by Christians of all stripes. Lent gives us a chance to take some meaningful steps forward in our journey of faith.

I have come to view Lent as an opportunity to pay attention to my relationship with Jesus as I prepare to celebrate his death and resurrection. The truths we commemorate on Good Friday and Easter Sunday deserve some buildup. I’m convinced that if I make some adjustments in my typical patterns during the weeks leading up to those days, I will be in a position to appreciate them more fully.

I would encourage you to practice the discipline of letting something go during the season of Lent. In the six-plus weeks between Ash Wednesday (February 10 this year) and Easter Sunday, think of something that is part of your usual routine, and choose to do without it for the season. Declare a fast from something that you typically enjoy. You can let go of a particular food, or a leisure activity, or a piece of technology, or any number of other possibilities. Your choice to “do without” is not made for the purpose of earning God’s favor with your austere commitment. It is simply a choice to remind yourself that God is first. When Jesus fasted at the beginning of his ministry, he quoted Deuteronomy to explain that the point of that practice was to demonstrate that we don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. We also live not by chocolate alone, nor by Facebook alone, and so on.

I would also encourage you to practice the discipline of adding something during the season of Lent. What is something beneficial that can become a part of your routine during the weeks leading up to Easter? Perhaps you could add or expand a daily time of prayer. You could set a daily reminder to write an encouraging note to a different person each day. You could make a commitment to serve at a soup kitchen each week.

These changes don’t have to be anything heroic. You don’t have to give up oxygen for Lent, or commit to a daily 3-hour 4 A.M. prayer time. God can use even small steps in his direction to do big things in our lives.

This year I have decided that during the season of Lent, I will do without carbonated beverages and sports talk radio. I hope to take the space in my soul currently reserved for Dr. Pepper and conjecture about the Royals batting order next season, and give that space to Christ. I will also add to my daily Scripture reading pattern, making it meatier during the season. I look forward to seeing how God will use these changes in my routine to prepare me for Easter and draw me closer to himself. I hope you’ll find some steps you can take during Lent this year, too. And I hope it’s not giving up homework!