This year (2023) Ash Wednesday falls on Wednesday, February 22nd. It’s the beginning of the ancient church season of Lent. I wanted to offer some thoughts that might be helpful for your Campaigners group or Young Life team.
I didn’t start practicing Lent until I was in college and our Young Life Regional Director taught on the spiritual practice of Lent at a leadership meeting. With each year, this Lenten season grows more personally significant and is consistently a time of deeper intimacy with the Lord.
The term “Lent” comes from the English word Lenten (lengthen), referring to the season of the lengthening of the days, the spring. Ash Wednesday, the first day in the Lenten season, traditionally has been a day of repentance.
Ben Witherington writes “The remorse for sin is symbolized by the imposition of ashes on the forehead, but in that imposition is the sign of hope, for the ashes are imposed in the sign of the cross—the means by which our sins were atoned for.“
In the past, we have practiced lent together as a Young Life team and as a Campaigners group during the 40 days of Lent. The season of Lent traditionally begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. The timing of the end of Lent is different depending upon your tradition. (Read more here and here and here.) This season offers a timely opportunity to participate with your local church. Many churches have unique and meaningful traditions that can help us practice Lent.
Understanding a relationship with a God that we can’t see or touch often feels intangible to a middle or high school student. Yet, it seems the concept of Lent is something they can wrap their minds around, something they can actually do to help them connect with the Lord.
At Campaigners, we’ve discussed the concept of Lent through the metaphor of athletic training, one quite familiar to many teenagers. In order for an athlete to excel, they must prepare. When you watch an Olympian break a record, you know they didn’t just walk out there and get lucky. Their performance happened because of years of repetitive behavior.
Lent also involves preparation, prepping our hearts to grasp the power of the cross (Good Friday) and the hope of the empty tomb (Easter). One way we can prepare is the same way athletes prepare, with repetitive behavior. We can set our mind to do almost anything for 40 days.
Suggestions I Gave To My Campaigners Group
A Nightly Time Of Written Confession
Create a “locked document” on your laptops or phones, or in a hidden journal. Three sections of specific confession each night, “Thoughts,” “Words,” and “Deeds.” (based on the Book of Common Prayer general confession)
Give Up A Bad Habit
Pick something hard, but doable. Some guys are attempting to fast from porn, alcohol, drugs, sexual sin, etc… (things that should be given up regardless, but hopefully Lent will be a catalyst to developing some healthier habits following these 40 days.)
Giving Up A Comfort
Some guys are giving up things that aren’t necessarily “bad,” but things they consistently run to for pleasure instead of God. Ex: desserts, fast-food, social media, soda, Netflix, mindless games, video games, hitting the snooze button, etc.. I also saw that someone was only wearing one single pair of shoes for all of Lent in order to remember how wealthy they are and how a majority of the world doesn’t have “shoe options.”
Taking On A New Habit Replacing An Old One
- Instead of watching Netflix or checking social media sites before bed, consider reading just a few verses in the Bible.
- Or memorizing a verse of scripture each week (this would be great to do as a Campaigners group or a Young Life team).
- Or an old school practice like making phone calls to people instead of texting them.
So…is Lent just a behavior modification program?
Not at all, but it’s still important to modify behavior because behavior often influences belief. By choosing to purposefully give up a comfort or habit of pleasure, we take our eyes off of ourselves, our needs and our wants. Before we can fix our eyes on Jesus, we must stop being so preoccupied with the idol of our own flesh.
“Lent…is an intentional season…where we’re challenged to arrange our lives in such a way as to be daily frustrated. As people addicted to comfort and convenience, we’re often unaware of how we live to feel good about ourselves, to gain a bit of affirmation, to exert influence, to maximize our own pleasure, to satisfy our immediate needs.
Lent invites us to intentionally frustrate ourselves, to engage in a season of deprivation, which actually makes us more aware of the depth of our dependence on any number of things – a substance, our reputation, control, achievement, being right, being comfortable, being secure.
Lent is not about going off chocolate or caffeine or alcohol. It’s about frustrating what Thomas Merton calls our ‘false self’….Lent strips us of everything that is not us. In that sense, Lent is not a chore. It is an opportunity for profound grace by a God who longs to love us at our core, not in our false projected self which desire influence and accolades, but in our truest, most humble and dependent self, once lost but now found in the wilderness of Lent.“
Helpful Resources for Lent
This book is a great one to read as a Campaigners group or Young Life team. It gives practical and doable habits that you can immediately start implementing into your life!
Another newer book by Jim Branch is called “Teach Us To Pray: A 40 Day Journey in the Psalms.” Get it here
Justin McRoberts and visual artist, Scott Erickson, have put together a prayer book that is easy to use for all ages. In it, they combine fresh language and beautiful imagery to help us with the practice of prayer. They wrote and designed the book to be a resource for people who want to reimagine and strengthen their spiritual practice. Get it here. And if you’re not following Scott on Instagram, you’re missing out!
Backyard Pilgrim by Matt Canlis is a 40-day experience you can take in your own back yard. Read more about it from Julie Clapp here!
Many of you have read Ty’s book, “My First 30 Quiet Times.” “40 Days of Lent” is the same small size that fits in many Bibles, easy to read in the daily format, and a helpful tool to hand to your Campaigners group. You can get it here for only $1.99 in hard copy or as an e-book.
Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite authors. You could really pick up any of his books to help prepare you for Easter during the Lenten season, but “Show Me The Way” is specifically designed for that purpose. If you haven’t read Nouwen yet, be prepared to encounter Jesus in a fresh way.
Read more about the history of Lent in this article from Christianity Today.
If you have any other ideas to share, email us and we can add them to the post.