Today is the first day of Lent. If you're not Catholic (or Anglican or Episcopalian) you may not be familiar with Lent. It's not actually a holiday that is found in the Bible, although the concept behind it of sacrificing and fasting are very Biblical! So whether you are reading this article the day I write it or you've stumbled across it on my blog 6 months from now, I hope you will prayerfully consider one of the suggestions I am about to present and realize that the timing isn't nearly as important as the heart-change.
If you're like me and not overly-familiar with Lent, let me bring you up to speed. Lent is the 40 days (excluding Sundays) preceding Easter. These 40 days represent the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing to begin His ministry and resisting Satan's temptations. It's a time traditionally set aside to focus on your relationship with God, examine yourself and repent.
Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD. ~Lamentations 3:40
Typically, Christians “give up” something for Lent. Two popular options are to stop eating chocolate or sign off of Facebook for 40 days. Offering a sacrifice that is difficult or uncomfortable is intended to serve as a reminder of the suffering Jesus endured for our Salvation. It also frees up time to focus on prayer, sacrifice and charity…. all spiritual disciplines that we would do well to practice all year long!
Lent hasn't really been on my radar in the past, but yesterday as my newsfeed and email inbox filled with articles offering ideas of what I could give up for Lent, I started wondering what would happen if we stopped giving up something physical and gave up bad habits instead? What if we spent 40 days focusing on Character Development?
To that end, I have brainstormed a list of 40 unconventional things you could give up for Lent. I'm not a Lent purist, so I don't care if you pick one and give it up for the full 40 days or work your way down the list giving one thing up each day for 24 hours. Either way could be a very interesting experience that leads to some new, healthier habits. (If you are working your way down the list, here's a handy printable checklist.)
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40 Life-Changing Things To Give Up for Lent
- Complaining – Complaining is nothing more than venting. It may feel like a relief at the time, but it's toxifies the world for the people around us who have to listen to our griping. Develop a more positive way to look at the world and everyone will be happier. Our family has really enjoyed the 21 Day Complaint-Free World Challenge. (It's a lot harder than it sounds!)
- Gossip – Let's not repeat information that's not ours to share, even if it's true. And let's be extra careful not to disguise our gossip in the form of prayer requests. “Please pray for so-and-so because of this scandalous situation in their lives” is still gossip.
- Jumping To Conclusions Before You've Heard the Full Story – It's so easy to do this! Sometimes we're in a hurry so we interrupt somebody thinking we know how the story will turn out. Sometimes we assume the worst about someone else's motives. Take time to listen to the whole story and understand that you are only hearing one side of the story.
- Mom Guilt – Just stop. Do you love your children? Are they fed? Do they have clothes? Are you paying attention to their education? Are they happy? If you're Christian, are you training them to love the Lord? Then you're doing a good job. Don't get caught up in the Mommy Wars that tell you that Good Moms do such-and-such a certain way. I used to carry a lot of Mommy Guilt because I don't ever take my children to the park. Good Moms take their children to the park, right? Well I never seemed to find the time or energy to go. Then one day my friend said, “What are you talking about? You live on a farm! Your house IS a park!” and I realized she was right. There is more than one way to raise children.
- Media – Television (especially the nightly news) and social media can really bring a girl's spirits down. What would happen to your world view if you severely limited or eliminated the constant stream of negativity that comes from these sources? Could not watching television shows and commercials cause you to be more grateful for the life you have? Imagine your home without the steady sound of the television set in the background all the time.
- Criticizing – Criticizing is an attack that is disguised as a complaint. It's personal and it hurts to be on the receiving end of criticism. How would your relationships improve if you didn't utter a single criticism for 40 days?
- Yelling – Yelling is something so many of us default to, especially with our children. Do you think you can't control it? Let me ask you this: Do you yell at your boss? At your pastor? At a Police Officer who pulls you over for speeding? Alrighty then. If we can control ourselves and not yell to the authority figures in our life then we can certainly control ourselves and not yell at our babies. If we don't control ourselves with our babies but we do with other people, then we're just being bullies. (Ouch.)
- Being Rushed – Stop. Slow down. Enjoy what is going on around you right now. If you rush through life, always trying to get to the next thing, trying to get to the finish line…. the finish line is death. So slow down and enjoy the journey.
- Skipping Devotional Time – I finally joined the 21st century and got my first cell phone a few months ago. To my great dismay, I discovered that a cell phone is not like a cordless phone. My cordless phone could sit off its charger for several days and not die but my cell phone has to be charged every single day. If I don't charge it each morning, it's not going to make it through the day. My devotional time is like this. If I don't recharge with God in the morning, I'm not going to make it through the day. If you want encouragement in your devotional life, check out our Bible Journaling For Non Artists Facebook Group!
- Overeating – You know that really full feeling you get when you've eaten way too much? What if you only ate enough food to energize yourself instead of overloading and overworking your system?
- Stinginess – Instead of keeping things to yourself (hoarding!), try pouring your resources, talents or time out on other people with unimaginable generosity.
- Selfish Tendencies and Desires – This refers to putting aside what we want for ourselves in order to bless somebody else. The best example that leaps to mind is when – at the end of a very long day – I finally get the chance to sit down and then a child needs me to get up for something. Usually that “something” seems incredibly insignificant to me. I can either ignore the request or get up even though I don't want to. Getting up is Love with a capital “L” y'all.
- Holding Grudges – Do you have a mental list of how many dumb or mean things somebody has done? Staying mad about it makes you bitter and it can actually have a negative impact on your health, but the incredible thing is that it doesn't hurt the other person at all. You know the expression “forgive and forget”? That may or may not apply here. I'm not saying to trust somebody who is untrustworthy. I'm just saying to set the anger down, accept that you can't change the other person and then proceed in the relationship with caution, but proceed having given up the negative feelings that are hurting you.
- Perfectionism – It ain't never gonna be perfect. So don't expect that of yourself and don't expect it from others. Being a perfectionist is unfair and unreasonable. (Unless you detonate bombs or perform brain surgery for a living and then yes, we want you to be a perfectionist.) But in our relationships…. a little grace, please.
- Comparison – It's the thief of Joy and the mother of discontent. Just don't even allow yourself to go there.
- Sarcasm – Sometimes a healthy dose of sarcasm can diffuse a tense situation. I'm talking about sarcasm that carries a negative energy with it. Directing sarcasm toward another person is mean. You don't want to be the mean girl.
- Unrealistic Expectations – We all have goals and expectations, but are they reasonable and fair? If your expectations for yourself are unrealistic you are doing yourself a disservice. Show a little grace to yourself, Mama! Having unrealistic expectations for others is very likely straining the relationship.
- Say “No” to obligatory “volunteer” work – Setting boundaries by saying “no” will protect your time. Only volunteer if you have PASSION for a particular project. If you aren't crazy-excited to volunteer for it, save your time and energy for something you are crazy-excited to volunteer for.
- Trying to Fix everything – Before we got married my husband and I went through the obligatory pre-marital counselling. At one point I remember asking the pastor how I could make the transition to us being married easier for our relatives to adjust to. The pastor looked at me and said 5 words I will never forget: “Are you the Holy Spirit?” No, I'm not the Holy Spirit and it's not my job to fix everything. In fact, there are a lot of things that I would like to fix, that aren't fixable (not by me, anyway). Lesson Learned.
- Negative Words – Imagine our world if all our words were uplifting and blessed the people around us!
- Late Nights – How would your world and your life change if you went to bed early and woke up every morning feeling like your very best self, rested and refreshed?
- Your Technology Addiction – Constantly being distracted with texting, your cell phone, email notifications, etc, etc, etc, can impact your relationships with your spouse and your children. Consider giving yourself a curfew and putting technology away after dinner so that you can focus on the people you love.
- Self Loathing: Please, oh please don't bash your body, weight, wrinkles, or anything else about yourself. These things do not define you. You can make healthy changes without beating yourself up. If you dislike things about your personality, those can be changed too, but they do not determine your worth.
- Multitasking – There's so much to do in a day that we Mamas have to be able to multi task. But when your husband or your precious babies want your attention that is the time to stop multitasking and focus! Look your husband directly in the eye, squat to get eye level with your children. Let them know they are important and they have your full attention.
- The Drive Thru – There is a Mennonite expression that says that food either builds our body up or tears our body down. There's no in-between. The food we eat needs to nourish us and build our systems up. Fast food (for the most part) doesn't do this. In order to avoid the drive-thru temptation try stocking your freezer and pantry with some quick-to-prepare food that you can grab and have ready quickly. Spaghetti noodles and a can of spaghetti sauce can provide a quick meal on those “I. Just. Can't.” nights. I like to keep 1-gallon ziploc bags full of soup in my freezer. They thaw out pretty quickly on the stove.
- Sleeping In – If you want to be successful in life you have to do the things successful people do. I am not a morning person by nature (so not a morning person!) but I sure get a lot more done if I start early than if stay up late and roll out of bed late. It's no coincidence that none of the business success gurus suggest staying up late and starting your day late. Get up and get at it! Your children are watching and what you do now becomes lifelong habits for them later. (To soften the blow of having to get up early, I really, really enjoy my CD alarm clock radio. It lets me wake up to my favorite music! If you're not as technologically behind as I am, they make them for mp3's too.)
- Background Noise – Learn to enjoy the sound of silence. God says “Be still and know that I am God.” Being still means having some quiet time away from the busyness of life. Turning the Television off, turning the background music off and just enjoying the stillness.
- Busy-ness – Clear your Schedule to just enjoy each other. There is no need for over scheduling. Having time reserved just to spend together as a family will bind our children's hearts to home and family.
- Little White Lies – Little white lies may seem like no big deal, but dishonesty is dishonesty. This is not the example you want to set for your family and it's not the kind of person you want to be. There are kind ways to avoid telling a blunt, hurtful and unnecessary truth without having to lie. Our integrity is only as good as the accuracy of our word.
- Friendship Neglect – In the craziness and constant-ness of raising a family it's so easy to slip into survival mode and let our friendships slide. Sometimes my friends and I joke that we'll have time to get together when the children are all in college. Be intentional and reach out to your girl friends! They are your tribe! You need them and they need you! You need each other to stay refreshed in the craziness of this Mama-Life.
- The News – Yes, it's important to be informed but we can't spend our time worrying about what we see. Technology allows us to hear the bad news from anywhere in the world and it gets streamed right into our homes. We were not created to process the bad news of the entire world. It's too much.
- Clutter – I recently read Marie Kondo's book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The basic premise of her book is that if an item doesn't bring you joy (or serve a purpose that brings you joy) it doesn't need to be taking up space in your life. I am finding that to be so true and I am purging our home of things that I was holding onto out of obligation or guilt. I didn't realize how draining having this stuff around was until I starting freeing myself from it.
- Judging – We’ve all seen that parent, who is doing something that we think is insane… letting their toddler stay up until 10 pm or yelling at their children in the grocery store. Yes, they could be making better decisions but what if we came alongside them and extended grace instead of judgement?
- Negative Self Talk – Stop! Just stop! God did not make a mistake when He created you. You are worthy and you are loved. Please extend grace to yourself as quickly as you would extend it to other people.
- Control – Trying to control people or situations is an exercise in futility. And do you really want the burden of being in charge of everything? No thank you!
- Trying to Change Who Our Children Are – The amazing thing about children is that God uses two people to create an extraordinary third human being! Sometimes the child is so similar to one of the parents and sometimes the child is completely different! Some parents badger and push, trying to urge the child to be more this way or that way, but really our children were created to be unique. God has specially equipped them for their own destinies! Our job as parents is not to force them to align with our vision for their lives, but to mold them into what they need to be to fulfill God's vision for their lives.
- Photographing Everything – I love to take pictures and document my children's childhood, but sometimes you just have to put the camera down and experience the moment.
- Being Too Comfortable – Anything worth doing is usually scary. If you're not out of your comfort zone at least a little bit, you're not being challenged and there's a good possibility that you're not growing as much as you could.
- Checking Your Email – Checking your email throughout the day can suck up a lot of your time. Process it instead. Sit down one time each day and go through your email systematically. You'd be amazed at how much time this will free up for you!
- Overloading Your To-Do List – Having a to-do list that is longer than it is reasonably possible to get through in a day just sets yourself up for failure and defeat. Don't start your day that way.
- Putting Out Fires – Someone else's lack of planning is NOT YOUR EMERGENCY. There's no need to spend your life putting out other people's fires. If the fires you are putting out are your own fault, consider what changes need to be made so that you're not always living life in Emergency mode.
- Skipping Quiet Time or Prayer Because You're Too Busy – During a particularly busy season in his life George Muller (a missionary in the 1800's) struggled with finding enough time to pray. He later shared that he had discovered that 4 hours work after an hour of prayer would accomplish more than 5 hours of work without prayer. For help in knowing how to pray, check out my posts The Perfectionist's Prayer Journal and Prayer Sticks to Organize Family Prayer Time.
- Budget-Free Living – spending money without a budget or a plan is a disaster waiting to happen. There are so many online budgeting tools! EveryDollarBudget is a free tool that our family uses. It's simple and helps us manage our finances with intention. Mint.com is also a good option.
- Misplaced Priorities – Are your children more important than your husband? Oops! Or maybe you work too long and miss out on spending time with your children as a result. What other priorities do you have that need to be rearranged?
(Ok, I might have thrown in just a few extra bonus suggestions!)
Do you give up anything for Lent? Has this list inspired you to make a change? Please tell me about it in the comments!