Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pray. Fast. Give - Crunch Time!

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may know that I work at a Catholic maternity home for homeless, pregnant women. Part of what I do with the women is provide spiritual reflections on a weekly basis. As we approach Lent, here is a primer I put together for them on how to approach prayer, fasting and giving - perhaps it can be of use to you (or someone you know) as well! It's crunch time - are you ready??

The three main spiritual focuses of Lent are PRAYER, FASTING, and GIVING. Each is meant to shift our focus away from distractions of the world and more closely unite us to Jesus Christ as we look forward to the Resurrection at Easter. Each are meant to unite us to His journey to the cross, to His sacrifice, to His love, and to His heart.

PRAYER: Lent is a time to focus more intently on prayer. Consider it spring training for your heart. You are exercising your heart and spirit to be more like Christ’s, to take on suffering and love for all. This is a special time for you to explore different types of prayer, to take on a new practice, to make more time and room for Jesus.

  • Saying a decade of the rosary every day, if not a full rosary. 
  • Saying a Divine Mercy Chaplet daily. 
  • Reading one chapter of Scripture daily. 
  • Renouncing all your sins, bad habits and struggles in the name of Jesus daily. 
  • Saying a novena (a nine-day series of prayer) to a specific saint. 
  • Thinking of those people who you dislike or struggle with and saying a daily prayer offering them forgiveness and asking Jesus to change your heart toward them. (Feel free to throw in a prayer for Jesus to touch their hearts as well.) 
  • Spiritually adopt a baby at risk of abortion and pray for them daily. 
  • Attend Mass during the week. 
  • Learn about one new saint each day and keep a journal of what touched you about their lives and how they lived their faith. 
  • Keep a gratitude journal and give thanks to God each day for those things. 
  • Make a box or folder with a crucifix on it and when a worry or concern enters your mind/heart, write it down and put it in the box/folder and let it go to Jesus. At the end of Lent, look through that box/folder and see what God has done with your worries. 
  • Discover new spiritual reading, maybe a classic like Augustine or something new like Elizabeth Scalia’s “Strange Gods” 
  • Meditate on a verse of scripture each day using Lectio Divina. 
Remember that it is about drawing closer to Jesus, not just something to check off a list – find what draws your heart into Christ. It may take some practice, but don’t give up – it is a habit that leads to a lifelong conversation and relationship with Jesus.

FASTING: Fasting is meant to unite us with the cross of Christ. It can also be used to permanently detach us from worldly attachments that harm our relationship with Jesus. As you decide on your fasting for this Lent, consider these things:

What little sacrifices can you make each day to unite yourself with the cross?

What things distract you from prayer, responsibilities, family, health, etc.?
  • Do you watch television when you should be working?
  • Do you play on your phone when you could be praying?
  • Do you speak negatively or gossip about others instead of speaking their praise?

Here are some creative ideas from LifeTeen how you might make a sacrifice:
  • Park at the very back of the parking lot
  • Put a popcorn kernel in your shoe every day
  • Don’t use your apps
  • Pray the “Hail Mary” and do an ab crunch for every single word
  • Stop complaining and/or being negative
  • Give up texting and call whomever you need to talk to
  • Don’t use utensils
  • When you wake up, jump out of bed, kiss the floor, and learn humility
  • Wear the same 4 outfits for all of lent
  • Everyday do 20 (or 100) pushups and offer it up for someone who’s sick
  • Cut out all screen-time (phone, TV, computer) after dinner
  • Don’t straighten or curl your hair
  • Sit and stand up straight – don’t slouch!
Don’t forget that Lent is about stretching ourselves. It’s about doing something that’s uncomfortable in order to deny our “flesh” and make more room for God. (Read the full post from LifeTeen.) Some other thoughts include:
  • Only drink water.
  • Don't wear makeup.
  • Don't watch your favorite show on television.
  • Don't eat snacks.
  • Give up meat for all of Lent.
  • Give up caffeine.
  • Take a cold shower.
  • Give up fast food.
  • Only take a five minute shower.
  • Take up an extra chore.

GIVING: The tradition of almsgiving during Lent can be traced to early traditions of giving through sacrifice to God by way of the Church. Scripture tells us, “God loves a cheerful giver.” God isn’t talking just about putting money in a basket on Sundays, though – He want us to make generosity a way of life. How might we do this?

  • Consider giving up something you enjoy – fast food, soda, smoking, shopping, Starbucks – and collecting the money you save for a worthy cause. 
  • Put all your loose change in a jar over Lent and find a charity dear to your heart to donate it to at the end of Lent.
  • Perform an intentional act of kindness toward a random stranger every day. Do the same with your loved ones.
  • Go through your clothes and shoes – give away at least one tenth of what you own. Pick at least one thing you really like – remember that it isn’t actually generous to give something away you don’t want. 
  • Put away the phone and turn off the television for one hour when you would normally have them on – spend that time with your child, a friend or a family member. 
  • Write one note of encouragement every day to people you know. 
  • Adopt a soldier and send them a note of thanks and encouragement. 
  • Adopt a senior in a nursing home and visit them once a week over Lent (and continue after). 
  • Every time you shop, intentionally buy an extra canned good or other non-perishable item to be given away to a food bank. 
  • If you are at a restaurant or drive-thru, pay for the person in line behind you. 
  • Look strangers in the eye and greet them. 
  • Keep non-perishable food items (like soft breakfast bars) with you to give to the homeless if you run across them. Be sure to look them in the eyes and ask their name, too. Then pray for them either right there, or during your daily prayer. 
  • Volunteer one day a week when you would normally want to be paid. 

Not only does God love a cheerful giver, but He promises to take care of us in abundance. We don’t have to worry about giving of ourselves, our time, our money, or our things because God will repay our generosity with His, which exceeds all our expectations!

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