20 Alternative, Life-Affirming Activities to Do During Lent
Jennifer Angelina Petro
There is debate in both pagan and Christian circles as to the origins of Lent, and, as usual, both sides think they’re right. We know Norse people put ashes on their forehead to protect them from Odin’s more violent moods. And it’s hard not to notice that Yggdrasil, the World Tree, in Norse mythology, is an ash tree. We do know Jesus never mentioned Ash Wednesday, nor anything even close. It was a ritual adopted many centuries later. We also know that, in most Christian denominations—both Protestant and Catholic, that it’s traditional to “give something up” for forty days. Some people fast from meat. Other’s treat it sort of like a New Year’s Resolution and deny themselves chocolate, TV, fried foods, and the like.
I propose that Lent be a time of welcoming new things into our lives, of affirming people and things we love and new people and things we want to cultivate love for. The word, “Lent,” simply means springtime. Why, during such a lavishly abundant time of growth should we refuse ourselves even the simplest of pleasures? I truly believe that is not what Jesus wants. I believe he wants us to enjoy “the kingdom of God,” and to share of what we have. He fasted, yes, so the story goes, but he never said we should do it for forty days. Early Christian Church leaders were all about encouraging the illiterate flock to deny itself pleasures, to self-flagellate, to perform outrageous acts of penance, and all manner of self-mortifications, while they sat back in their gold-gilded rooms feasting. It almost became sort of a contest: who can sleep on a bed of nails the longest? Who can pick the worst self-abusive behaviors for the glory of God? The body was, after all, sinful.
Well, if we are made in the image and likeness of the Divine, then I say our bodies are sacred and meant to be treated as such. In light of that, here are twenty suggestions for alternative, life-affirming things we can do for the next forty days.
-Commit to doing some kind of act of self-care.
-Accept and celebrate positive things about yourself and others in active, real ways.
-Do something creative every day and then throw a party after that time to culminate the resurrection of (or the evolution of) your creativity.
-Do something kind (and in secret) for someone every day—especially perhaps for those you may not “like,” or who are “different,” than you.
-Take time to expand your understanding of things like feminism, racism, gender studies, white-privilege, etc., and ways to get involved locally and/or globally to help the world.
-Send someone (the same person or different) an email every day with a silly joke or inspirational quote.
-Sing every day–your favorite song, a new song, a silly song, a made-up song—to yourself, in the shower, at work, while walking, to strangers, to friends, to family.
-Try a new food every day and/or share food with someone else.
-Make every effort to sit down with your whole family for dinner.
-Every time you catch yourself thinking something judgmental towards someone, including yourself, reframe that thought into something loving, positive, and compassionate.
-Donate your time and resources to someone or an organization that helps others.
-Read spiritual literature every morning and/or evening. Or, at very least, read something other than online news—a story, a children’s book, poetry, a biography. You get the idea.
-Take time to learn about different faith traditions with the goal of looking for similarities and places your faiths converge.
-Eat breakfast and/or health(ier) foods.
-Take one little (or big) step towards your dream every day.
-Take a moment to breathe consciously outside.
-Take a moment to notice—really notice—a tree, flower, cloud, a loved one, your own amazingness.
-Throw away, or give away, one thing in your living space that you haven’t touched, noticed, used in ages.
-Inventory your life a little each day. Ask yourself how you’re doing as a citizen of the world. Be honest. No shame. Just objective self-reflection. What are you doing well? Where can you improve? Are there any amends to make? And so on.
-Go ahead and eat something you absolutely love.
The list is endless and as varied as you. The point is, instead of Lent being a time of denying things we like and love, we make it a time of embracing what we love in mindful, attentive, fun, and thankful ways.
It might also be fun to have your worship community, your family, your co-workers, and so on—commit to doing one of these affirming activities together and then celebrate the revelations and resurrections of playfulness and appreciation that hopefully would result by doing such a shared ritual.
As the season unfolds, it’s OK to start up a new “Forty Days,” anytime. It’s OK to celebrate the resurrection of anything that was lost and then found.
And, of course, it is the hope the cultivation of these positive things would extend far after Lent (or at least much longer than most New Year’s Resolutions); that they would become habits, so to speak, or perhaps, continually evolving spiritual practices.
You might be wondering what I have chosen to do this Lenten season. As of the writing of this post, I have the flu, so I am not committing to anything that puts me in contact with anyone else until I am officially not contagious. For now, I am committing to telling myself something nice about myself every day. I also commit to send little messages of appreciation and inspiration to someone different every day. Look in your inbox.
All donations go to medical expenses and groceries. Thank you. <3