Finding fresh ways to observe Lent, year in and year out, can be challenging.
While Catholics, Episcopalians, Orthodox Christians and others can rely on tradition to guide them, some Christians and churches are left to their own devices.
Fortunately for those in the latter category, an array of Lenten practices is available online, offering up hundreds of options via social media and social research.
Americans who observe Lent were asked how they typically observe the season by LifeWay Research.
The top answer, given by 57 percent of those asked, was abstaining from favorite foods and beverages, while 35 percent said they fast from bad habits during Lent.
Some may be relieved to learn that Lent isn’t always about giving up something. LifeWay found that 57 percent said their Lenten discipline is attending church services, while for 39 percent it is praying more. Another 38 percent said Lent is a time when they give more to others.
But in a sense it doesn’t really matter what is given up or added by an individual or congregation during Lent. What matters is sticking to the discipline.
“One of the most important things is the realization that for 40 days we are all in this together,” said Rodney Kennedy, the interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Peoria, Ill., and co-author of Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship.
“And I think it brings to the forefront that which is often missing in our churches today, and that is the kind discipline Lent requires,” Kennedy said.
Being open with others about the Lenten struggle provides an accountability that is often lacking the rest of the year, he said.
“We can get awfully sloppy if we do not have a period like Lent.”
On the eve of Ash Wednesday, as Kennedy was preparing today’s services for the imposition of ashes, the preacher and self-described “Catholic Baptist” said his Lenten discipline in 2017 is be actively promote the First Amendment. It’s clearly under threat in Washington D.C., he said.
“I have to dream up 40 things I can do to protect it,” he said. Those things will include regular Facebook postings and picketing government buildings, if necessary.
“I can’t let it go without doing everything in my power to defend it,” he said.
More specific information on what other Americans say they are doing is available on the Twitter Lent Tracker.
The often tongue-in-cheek tracker lists social networking, alcohol, chocolate, chips and Twitter as the top five things tweeters said they are giving up for the season.
Others included sweets, fast food, coffee, swearing, sex, smoking and soda. More humorous pronouncements included Lent, breathing, religion and giving things up.
Donald Trump comes in at no. 15.
The purpose of Lent is to put others first, Kennedy said.
“It’s most necessary for me,” he said. “It’s a time when I will do stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily do. It’s not fun and it’s not easy.”
Most of the rest of the year, the church seeks to entertain its members and others. That shouldn’t be the case during Lent.
“The church needs to hold my feet to the fire and Lent does that for me,” Kennedy said.