Lent is a strange time for pastors and other leaders in the church. We teach and preach that Lent is a time of self-reflection and examination, a time of renewing the connection to the salvation and new life given to us in Christ, time to shed bad habits that we just can’t shake. And yet…all of the work we do to create opportunities and spaces for this reflection and renewal makes this a very busy time for our leaders.
Instead of attending to our own prayer lives and Sabbath practices with increased vigilance, we spend extra time preparing special worship and meals. And this is not to say that extra time we spend working isn’t life-giving, or that it is unfulfilling. Most of us gain a great sense of life and renewal in doing this work for and with others. However, church leaders are notoriously bad at following our own teachings.
Lent originated with the preparation of new Christian converts for baptism on Easter. They spent time practicing being Christians – studying and memorizing creeds, praying together, fasting, shedding the material and psychological attachments that were anchoring them to their old lives. For those of us who have been Christians, for a little or a long while, we can forget what called us here in the first place. Even prayer, worship and study can become routine instead of new and exciting.
What are some Lent practices that help us reflect and breathe life into our regular routines of Christian life? Perhaps we change up our schedules. Take a few extra days off during these weeks. Or sleep in a few days a week when we have evening activities for church. If sleeping in isn’t possible, what else can you stop doing during Lent? Giving up a duty for a season can give you some breathing room to rest a bit, as well as seeing what really does need to be done, and what you might be able to give up.
Maybe you try something new – take a class, make extra coffee dates with friends, or schedule a game night, do something you are terrible at but love. You could take 10-20 minutes each day just to sit with yourself and pray, or dream about the future, or read or create something just for yourself. Don’t think about all the things you haven’t finished yet. They will still be there when you are done with your break.
It doesn’t need to be a huge change, but it does take a bit of thought and planning. Like the early Christian converts, we have to be deliberate about changing our lives to shed old habits, and embrace new life. We have to practice what we preach this Lent, both for our own sake and for those we lead.