Thursday, April 9, 2015


With Lent now ended, many Christians are indulging in stuff they’ve avoided for weeks. I typically give something up (this year- Twitter), and over time have learned there’re multiple ways to do it. I mean, on one level it’s all the same: chose something to not enjoy, then eagerly await its return! But hopefully, we do that purposefully; to learn, to grow spiritually. And how we go about that is different for different folk. Still, I’ve identified three common- and reliable- methods for Lenten learning. Surely, there’s more. But I’m sharing these today because a) Lent just finished, and b) They work outside Lent. I.e. if you want to keep growth going, give these ideas a go!

1) Daily Reflection: When someone gives up, say, TV for Lent, she might insert prayer (or devotional reading, or…) into that now-empty space. Consider this “Spiritual Boot Camp.” Like certain fashionable- and effective, I’m told!- exercise regimes, this practice relies on intense effort invested over a short period for the sake of bursting out of your comfort zone and into a new normal.

I think this method works best if you’re facing a big question like, “What’s my life’s next chapter?” So you hold that question in mind and before God during your daily spiritual sessions, cumulatively gathering insight and inspiration. It’s not guaranteed to uncover an answer, but it often pushes you forward. Warning, though, like fitness boot camps, first establish a “base” level of spiritual engagement before trying. Otherwise, you’ll get strained, or too easily give up!

2) Weekly Check-in: Another option is to not force the issue, but still set aside time- e.g. during worship- to go over the week mentally. For example, maybe you gave up chocolate during Lent, and it seems strange to pray nightly about what that means. Instead, attend church and zone out during my sermons, so you can reflect about what’s transpired since you last “checked in,” asking what you did differently during times you’d otherwise eat chocolate, why you made those choices, what “aha” moments emerged because you shifted your routine. Maybe you celebrate your self-discipline when you felt the temptation to have “just one,” and didn’t. Bravo!

This approach works as a good introduction to regular spiritual activity, if it’s been awhile. It’s also helpful for getting to the next level for those without anything huge looming. Don’t add an hour-a-day of prayer. Two works fine, or read a daily Psalm, then pause regularly to discern what’s changing or changed. I like this method because it takes advantage of stuff you’re already doing (like church), requires but simple additions, and is, therefore, sustainable. After all, not every life change or growth program needs to be drastic or painful.

3) Easter/Post-Lent Wrap-up: This final option may look like the procrastinator’s method, but isn’t…necessarily. Here, you give something up and rather than fill that empty space with daily work or check-in weekly, you commit to taking stock after Easter. Like a researcher who doesn’t interrupt an experiment, but simply analyzes final data, you postpone deep reflections until the end.

This can be effective if you’re considering a spiritual change, but don’t know exactly how well it’ll work. So rather than invest $100s in yoga classes, mats, clothes and books, only to learn after session two you hate it, you commit to attending yoga just during Lent (or any six week period). Then, don’t stress about what’s next until you have those weeks of data. At that point, weigh the pluses and minuses, other alternatives, changes in ideas or health. Also, before the experiment period begins, take stock of where you’re starting from, so you can compare and contrast once you’re done without hindsight bias. If you like it, go deeper. If you don’t, try something else. If you’re uncomfortable…well, be honest about whether it’s holy discomfort or not. The point is to immerse yourself for a time and trust God will guide your path once the experiment ends.

So there you go, my Lent-inspired growth techniques. Any others we should consider? I pray your Lent was opportunity for refreshment and challenge, and that our growth is but beginning!

Grace and Peace,
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