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5 Unique Habits and Hang-ups to Give Up for Lent

AWARD-WINNING CHRISTIAN NOVELIST AND JOURNALIST

Perhaps you’ve heard of Lent and thought it was simply an exercise in self-denial, a time when we’re supposed to give up something we really love, like chocolate, to embrace the suffering Jesus experienced on the cross.

But Lent is about far more than self-denial.

Lent is a sacred Christian observance, the six-week reflection and repentance that occurs leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday—which this year falls on Feb. 14, 2024—and ends on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. It is meant to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and enduring temptation in the desert. Sundays in Lent are not included in the 40 days, as they are considered mini-Easters. During Lent, the idea is that we should reflect on Christ’s time in the wilderness as he prepared to begin his ministry.

Christians are supposed to focus on their relationship with God during Lent, growing as disciples and extending themselves. This might mean giving up something that might be a stumbling block for us or perhaps adopting a new practice, thereby giving ourselves to others.

When it comes to giving up something for Lent, there are common things people tend to give up, such as coffee, alcohol, or sleeping in.

But many people spend a great deal of time intentionally praying about things the Lord wants us to do for Lent. Often, these are unique things that really embrace the heart of Lent and what it means to prepare our hearts for repentance and deeper service.

Let’s look at five unique things to give up for Lent.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImagesNastco

Bible on a dinner plate

1. Eliminate Toxins from Your Body during Lent

Our bodies are beautiful creations, and each of us was designed by God and created in his image (Genesis 1:27). It’s important to honor our bodies in remembrance and respect of this truth. As we’re told in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (NIV).

When we take care of our bodies, we also care for our minds and ensure we are healthy and capable of doing the Lord’s work. While God can and does use anyone for his purposes, even though with dire illness and vast disability, we should strive to care for the special home he created that houses our souls while we live during our time on earth.

We know toxins are bad for us—polluted water can sicken or kill us. Tainted food can do the same. So can junk food. Studies have shown that people who consume diets that are not nutritionally sound often suffer from brain fog and other debilitating conditions. They are also more prone to diseases, including some kinds of cancer, that can interfere with our work for the Lord.

We also use chemicals in products that can impact our health, such as lotions or soaps. The toxins can be absorbed into our skin and lead to sensitivities and even health conditions in some people.

One interesting Lenten exercise is to eliminate toxins from our bodies as much as possible. Instead of soda, drink water or freshly squeezed juices. Instead of white sugar, sweeten food naturally with fruit or honey. Phthalates are often found in nail polish, so if you polish your nails, look for phthalate-free polish. Consider organic fruits and vegetables that don’t have as much harmful pesticide residue. Bisphenols, such as Bisphenol-A or BPA, are found in plastic, and making a simple change to microwave your food in glass instead of plastic can help reduce your exposure to this toxin.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Liudmila Chernetska

Woman rolling her eyes

2. Stop Complaining and Commiserating for Lent

Complaining reveals a lack of trust, faith, and hope in God. Instead of focusing on the good, a complainer expresses dismay, ingratitude, and discontentment with life and all God has provided. It goes against the joy we’re supposed to cultivate in the Holy Spirit. In Philippians 2:14-15, the apostle Paul urges,

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.”

While expressing our feelings is not harmful and can be healthy, complaining and dwelling on the negative puts us in a bad mood and diminishes our appreciation for God’s blessings. Studies also show it can hurt our health. It can impact the people around us, making them feel negative also.

When something upsetting or difficult occurs, it’s OK to acknowledge this quickly—but for Lent, experiment with stopping the cycle right there. Instead, train your brain to think about what might be good about this situation or time or remind yourself of other blessings you have despite this difficulty.

By reframing our perspective and focusing on the positive and good, we’re centering ourselves in the Lord and gratitude and thanksgiving for all he does provide. Even in the struggles, we can do what the apostle James advises: to “count it all joy” when we experience trials of any kind (James 1:2 ESV).

In his letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul urges the new believers to “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

When we focus on thanksgiving and gratitude, we can better cultivate the fruits of the Holy Spirit in us and, therefore, do God’s will better (Galatians 5:22-23). When we do God’s will better, we can draw more people into God’s kingdom and increase his impact.

Photo Credit: ©Pixabay/Robin Higgins 

man looking bored while texting

3. Give up Laziness for Lent

We’re busy people. Most of us work all day. Then we work some more when that work is done. Maybe we work out at the gym, or we work to clean and care for our homes or put food on the table for the people we love.

By the time all that work is done, we might be inclined to plop down on the couch and binge-watch television all night or spend our weekends lazing around doing as little as possible.

But the Bible warns against laziness, saying a lazy person hates work. This leads to downfall, we’re told. Proverbs 18:9 warns, “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys,” while Proverbs 13:4 says,

“A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”

While we cannot earn grace through our work—it is a gift from God—we know God wants us to work hard. As the apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

Note that laziness is not the same as rest. Rest is both good and godly. God urges his people to keep a sabbath day, a day of rest, every week to honor him and for self-care reasons. As the Lord said in Exodus 20:9-10, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it, you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.”

Still, a day of rest aside, consider what you can do to eliminate laziness during Lent. If you have free time, instead of mindlessly scrolling on social media, can you have an encouraging conversation with a coworker? Can you mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn or take out their trash cans?

Photo Credit:GettyImages/Motortion 

asian woman pointing to self conceit

4. Set Yourself Aside for the Lenten Season

This sounds impossible, of course—how can we give up ourselves for Lent? And honestly, as much as we try, we probably cannot ever achieve this one. But the truth is that most of us value ourselves and our own selfish interests, needs, worries, and concerns far more than anything else in this world, God included. In our heart of hearts, we put ourselves above the Lord, leaning to our own understanding instead of God’s. Today’s culture often idolizes the self, not God. But Jesus, when asked what was the greatest commandment, said,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

God first, and then others “as yourself.” It’s a lot tougher than we can imagine to do this consistently day after day.

I’ve seen a T-shirt that lists what we should prioritize, and I love its simplicity:

“Daily priorities,” it reads. “One, God. Two, others. Three, self. In that order.”

Most of us are so accustomed to putting ourselves and our families first that we leave the leftovers for God and other people in the world.

That’s why putting yourself last in priority—or at least trying to—can be a beneficial Lenten practice.

When we put God first, our head and our heart align with the Lord. We want what he wants, and everything else falls into place—perspective shifts.

It makes it easier to look around us and see other people in the world, our “neighbors.” Note that “neighbor” doesn’t mean the people who live near our home. This is anyone in our community. Indeed, since the internet has made the world an increasingly small place, it can apply to anyone we encounter in the world. This includes believers and unbelievers—or, as I like to call them, “not-yet believers.”

Adopting a mindset to care for others before ourselves helps increase our capacity for love, empathy, and generosity. This can look as simple as when we grow hungry and pull out a sandwich for lunch. We might glance around to see who is in our vicinity. Perhaps we might offer half of that sandwich to someone sitting nearby.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Khosrork

5. Give up...Giving Things up This Lent

5. Give up…Giving Things up This Lent

That’s right.. instead of giving something up, consider adding something to your life. While sacrifice can build character and help us live better, healthier, holier, and more disciplined, adopting a new and more Christ-like practice is often a far better thing to do during Lent. For instance, you might adopt a practice such as prayer journaling for Lent or giving a ministry an extra dollar a day. If you have not been a disciplined Bible reader, you might consider reading a chapter daily during Lent. (Incidentally, I did this myself during Lent about a decade ago and am a daily Bible reader today because of it.)

Other ideas include donating one item from your home every day to charity (this is also a great way to declutter an overstuffed house), making a meal for someone daily, doing a Bible study or daily devotional exercise, volunteering daily or prayer-walking, where you take a walk in silence while appreciating the Lord and his creation (also a great way to squeeze in more exercise).

These practices can continue after Lent and become a godly habit that helps you draw closer to the Lord and become more like Jesus. Colossians 3:23 urges,

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

It’s important, especially in a Lenten practice, to fully embrace the new activity or habit you are taking on. If it’s a commitment to prayer journaling, don’t just get it done so you can check it off your to-do list. Honoring Lent isn’t a way to earn God’s favor or prove our worth to others. Do it with all your heart, diving into the exercise so that you can grow and learn.

There are many other ideas of unique things to give up for Lent, and these are just a few. Pray and see what God is calling you to embrace this year.

Matthias David
Matthias David
Working in His vine, as He does even more at mine.
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