6 Things You Should– or Maybe Shouldn’t– Do for Lent


Mayfield Senior School

Mayfield students record words of inspiration and encouragement at this year’s Reconciliation prayer service. Photo by Mayfield Senior School.

One spring day in the sixth grade I was having a conversation with some of my non-Christian friends during lunch, and they were asking me about Lent. Being 12 years old, I told them that Lent is the 40 days before Easter where you are supposed to give something up, like chocolate or meat. “So I can give up Jane (one of our friends) for the month?” one of my friends joked, assuming that she was supposed to give up something that she likes. I told her no, that wasn’t the kind of thing people usually gave up, but I couldn’t really explain to them what Lent truly was.

Now, six years later, the definition of Lent is still a little blurry for me. Yes, it is the 40 days leading up to Easter where we are supposed to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus, but what exactly is “preparing yourself”?

I think the coming of Lent can cause stress for a lot of people who are frantically deciding what they are going to do for Lent: should they give up chocolate? Shopping? Instagram? The best first step to deciding what to do, or maybe what not to do, is first to decide what your intentions are for Lent. Do you want to improve your relationship with God and feel more connected to him? Do you want to be a better daughter, son, brother, sister, or friend? Do you want to improve your self control? Or do you want to help the world and other people? 

Once you decide what Lent means to you, it becomes easier to decide if you should take on a 40-day pledge, and what that should be. So without further ado, here are six possible ideas on what to do during Lent and why you should or shouldn’t do them.

1. Give up a food

One of the most common sacrifices people make for Lent is giving up a food they like, whether it be meat, chocolate, or boba. 

Giving up a food can be really great if you want to prove to yourself and to God that you can resist temptation, ultimately building up self control against food so you can practice better self control against sin. 

Additionally, if your goal is to better contribute to the world, giving up meat is also a great option, as it cuts down on your carbon footprint. 

However, sometimes food just comes down to food, and if your goal is to get closer to God, or be a better person, this might not be the best Lenten promise for you. One year I gave up chocolate for Lent, but I ended up finding other desserts to eat throughout the month, so I wasn’t really testing my self control. Plus, by the end of Lent, I didn’t feel any closer to God, or like I improved as a person. In addition, giving up a food can shift the focus of Lent from God and personal growth to diet culture.

So, if you choose to give up a food for Lent, I urge you to proceed with caution and remember why you are fasting.

2. Limit social media use

I think limiting social media use can act, in many ways, as a great Lenten promise. It can help shift your focus away from the superficial– what others are doing, what you look like, how many likes you get, what clothes you should buy– and towards yourself, God, and your friends and family.

While you can go cold-turkey and completely give up social media for the 40 days, I think that taking steps to limit use can help create long-term habits that you can carry beyond Lent, rather than returning to excessive Tik Tok scrolling the day after Easter. Some ways to consider limiting social media is putting a timer on apps, not using social media when you are around friends or family, or setting a specific time of the day that you will use social media.

3. Service

The right kind of service can have multiple benefits– serving your community, growing as a person, discovering how you can use talents for good, and connecting with God through those in need. However, the wrong kind of service – work that you hate doing or feel like you are forced to be doing – can build resentment, be unsustainable, and put you instead further from God and personal growth.

If you decide to do more service as your Lenten promise, I suggest that you take actionable steps to plan the service you want to do so that after  40 days pass, you don’t look back and realize you haven’t done anything. Some great service opportunities include participating in Mayfield’s Loaves and Fishes program if you like assembling lunches, Rosebud tutoring if you like working with children, or Union Station homeless breakfasts if you like to cook. 

4. Prayer

Praying is hard, and certain types of prayer aren’t for everyone. Praying can have a lot of benefits – introspection, developing a relationship with God, thanksgiving, petitions – but a lot of people give up praying because they don’t find a method of prayer that they can relate to. It’s important to try out a lot of different forms of prayer and see what works for you. Here are some options I know of for prayer.

  • Reciting prayers 
    • Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and other written prayers.
  • Meditation
    • There are many great apps to help with this, whether they be secular meditation or meditation with a spiritual aspect. Some examples include Ten Percent Happier and Amen.
  • The Examen
    • This is an Ignatian spiritual exercise where you reflect on your day (Reimagining the Examen guides you through the steps of the Examen)
  • Visual prayer
    • You can doodle, draw, or paint your prayers, which can help visualize them and make them more tangible. I recommend checking out the website Praying In Color to learn more about this.
    • Reading the Bible 
      • The Bible can seem daunting or inaccessible because of its size and its time period, but this is no reason not to give it a try. You can choose a book to read throughout Lent – some of the most accessible include the Psalms, the Gospels, and Proverbs. Another great resource is the Bible in a Year podcast by Fr. Mike Schmitz. Each episode is about 20 minutes and includes reading a part of the Bible, a Psalm, and some reflection/explanation from Fr. Mike. It’s especially accessible and easy to listen to on your drive to work or school.
  • Pray As You Go
    • This is an app that I’ve been using daily for over a year now. It is roughly 10 minute recordings that you can listen to in the mornings, on your commute, while you do chores, or before bed. It also includes music, a reading from the Bible, and reflection questions. I really enjoy this app because it’s different every day keeping me engaged, while remaining simple and easy to complete.

5. Grow as a person

This is kind of a catch-all category with some other Lenten promises that may work for you and your intentions for Lent.

  • Improve time management skills
  • Do random acts of kindness for strangers, your friends, and family.
  • Research issues happening around the world to be an aware ally.
  • Listen!
  • Say yes to more things.
  • Recycle!
  • Journal every day.

6. Nothing

This is probably the first year where I haven’t set a specific Lenten promise for myself. Granted, it’s never too late to start – it’s totally okay to make a Lenten promise halfway through Lent. But as I was reflecting and thinking about Lent this year, I couldn’t find anything that called to me. I don’t think putting more pressure on myself to do something every day or every week is what will make me closer to God right now, when already I’m feeling so overwhelmed with life. So my goal this Lent is to try to meet God where I am. To let his presence take over me and see him in my friends, teachers, and family. To do service when I feel called to, not because I put the pressure on myself to. To pray in the way that feels right that day, whether it be drawing one day or lying in bed another. To invite God into my life as it is. 

So, as this Lenten season begins, I hope you will take some time to decide what Lent means to do, and how you will effectively honor your intentions for Lent.