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What to Give Up and Take Up for Lent (Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving)

prayer fasting almsgiving during lent

When I was really little, sometimes my Mom would sing us this little tune to remind us of the big liturgical season coming upon us: “Lent, Lent, it’s time to repent!”

I giggle thinking about it, because at that tender age, I am fairly certain I didn’t really know what the term “repentance” meant.

Growing up, my family always celebrated the season of Lent. We would go to the fish fry at our parish each week, and often wander across the parking lot afterwards to pray the Stations of the Cross. We would all give up something as a family and would try to make more time for family prayer. But as I grew up in a more mature faith, so did my understanding change of the sacredness of this season.

If you glance at your calendar, you’ll see that Lent is right around the corner (beginning on March 6th). Does Lent sometimes stress you out? It does for me!

Lent is Not a Personal Improvement Program

I think sometimes I get caught up in this lie that Lent is some spiritual improvement plan where I have to “get my act together” and do Lent like I am some type of spiritual ninja. I grab my Rosary beads, gather up all my will and might, and put on a cape and mask to become super-duper holy.

Sometimes I make it more about “doing Lent well,” rather than asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to me where I need to grow and be challenged, to ask Jesus what He wants me to do for Lent.

Lent is the most sacred season of the year for Catholics because we prepare to remember and celebrate the greatest mysteries of our faith: the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.

In this season, in order to prepare our hearts and minds, the Church offers us different ways to turn away from sin and towards Jesus through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

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What to Give Up and Take Up this Lent

I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed this Lent, friend. I do not want you to feel like you have to come to Jesus perfectly and get it all right. Start right where you are and let Him lead.

Here is a list of ideas to get you thinking on how to keep prayer, fasting, and almsgiving wherever you are on your walk with the Lord.

Prayer

Prayer is our conversation with God, both our speaking to Him and listening. When we develop a lifestyle of prayer in our daily life, we develop a closer relationship to each person of the Trinity. There is no right or wrong way to pray, and your prayer style will change over your stage in life and vocation.

Jesus just wants us to be with Him! So let’s just start there.

Ideas for Prayer

  • Count your daily gratefuls in the shower or on the drive to work
  • Go to daily Mass an extra day or two outside of Sunday
  • Pray the Angelus at 12 p.m.
  • Pray the Rosary as a family, or
  • Pray the Rosary in your car by yourself
  • Attend Mass in a different Catholic Rite or in another language other than English
  • Pray the Examen at the end of your day
  • Read the Gospel of Mark for ten minutes each day

Fasting

Fasting is one of the most ancient practices associated with Lent. Many of the early Desert Fathers and Mothers imposed very strict fasts upon themselves as a way to fight temptation, strengthen their will, and rely on Jesus in a deeper way.

When talking about fasting, it is important to remember that there are many different ways to fast other than eating less food, though that is a common route.

The prophet Isaiah insisted that fasting without changing our behavior is not pleasing to God. This shows us the goal of fasting is very closely linked to prayer and a right disposition of heart. An empty belly or a connected person on social media reminds us of our hunger for God, and prayer and fasting together bring us to what Lent is all about: a deeper conversion to Jesus Christ.

Ideas for Fasting

  • Do not eat meat on an additional weekday
  • Take the worst parking spot you can find
  • Eat one less meal
  • Read this book on intermittent fasting and consider trying it this Lent
  • Set a daily timer for Facebook or your favorite social media fix
  • Wake up an hour earlier than you normally do
  • Don’t buy anything extra except food
  • Don’t watch TV (or Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime)
  • Turn off the radio in the car
  • Eat more simply
  • Give up caffeine or limit yourself to one cup of coffee each day
  • Do not swear or gossip

Almsgiving

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a basic definition of almsgiving: to provide for the material needs of the Church according to their ability (CCC 2041-2043). Giving money to the poor is one of the most concrete acts of charity to our brothers and sisters. But just as with fasting, almsgiving is more than just giving money.

Almsgiving is an act of justice that pleases the heart of God when we care for our neighbor in need, whomever it is or whatever the situation is. The hope when we give alms is that we will learn to be generous and more dependent on God to meet our needs, rather than providing for ourselves while forgetting the needs of others less fortunate than us.

Ideas for Almsgiving

  • Do not use your credit card during Lent, only pay with cash
  • Each day of Lent, write an affirmation note to someone special in your life
  • Give up downloading apps, games, or music to your phone
  • If you like texting or talking on the phone, write more letters
  • Make a meal for an elderly neighbor
  • Show an act of kindness to a family member each day
  • Participate in the 40 bags in 40 days challenge
  • Show an act of kindness to someone who difficult to like
  • Give up complaining, take up gratitude instead
  • Give up online shopping
  • Raise funds for organizations like Heifer International to help low-income farmers secure livelihood
  • How are you preparing your heart and mind for Lent this season?

Preparing Our Hearts

Remember, Lent is not about getting it perfectly right. Ask the Holy Spirit how He wants to make you more like Jesus, and then follow that prompting in your Lenten practices.

How will you keep the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving these forty days?

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Patty Breen is a regular contributor to the BIS blog and a devotion writer. She is a full-time lay minister who finds joy in running, strong cups of coffee, and all things Ignatian spirituality. A Midwestern gal from the mitten state, she is constantly learning to find grace in all things. She is passionate about ministry to divorced Catholics and women whose relationships have been impacted by sexual addiction. You can find out more about her here.

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