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What to Do to Stick with Lent for All 40 Days

What happens if you break your Lenten promise? Lent is supposed to be challenging. Here's what you can do.

You’re not alone if Lent feels impossibly long. Forty days, we pledged, we would forego the sweet taste of chocolate. Forty nights, we promised, we’d pray before going to bed.

Here we are 12 days in, and I’ve already fallen off the Lent wagon a few times myself.

Lent feels a bit interminable by design. The number 40 is Bible-code for “longer than anyone had wits to count” — from the number of days Noah and crew were aboard the ark to the span of years Moses and company wandered in the desert.

Yes, Lent is long — not to test our mettle so much as to give us ample time to try anew, that we too might experience being kept afloat by God’s mercy and know the thrill of locating oases of grace amidst our own deserts.

If you too have already fallen short of your well-intentioned Lenten aspirations this year, here are a few suggestions for keeping the faith this Lent.

Start slow and build momentum

There are two basic strategies when it comes to running a race — starting off as fast as you can and then holding on for dear life, or picking a workable pace and keep ratcheting it up bit by bit.

While the marks from Ash Wednesday are still fresh on our foreheads, we might have set for ourselves a rather aspirational set of practices we wanted to maintain for the next 40 days. But sometimes we sputter out as quickly as we started. Instead of trailing off throughout Lent, try starting with more modest goals and work toward a crescendo at Holy Week when the end — in the sense of both the finish line and the purpose — is in sight.

Add Dua Lipa and U2 to your Lenten playlist

Dua Lipa wants to make it clear that her new release Swan Song, despite the name, is decidedly not a swan song. The title line pulses throughout: “This is not a — this is not a swan, swan song.” And for us, stumbling in week two does not cue a swan song for our Lenten journey. There are certainly spiritual battles that we’d do well to channel the supersuited-resolve of Alita, the character for whom “Swan Song” was written. But automatically doubling down on what we resolved to do for Lent might not be the battle to pick.

Lent, ultimately, isn’t about us staying in control, unlike Dua Lipa’s “we just gotta hold on tonight.” Perhaps this Lent go with U2’s “I Will Follow.” Instead of trying to stay in control, we would do well to ask: Where does God want to take me this Lent?

Lenten disciplines aren’t New Year’s resolutions. What we choose to do or give up for Lent might, in fact, make us better people, but self-improvement isn’t the main goal of Lent. Instead, during Lent, our disciplines — as the root of the word suggests — are about discipleship. Disciples are those who follow their teacher. When we fall off the wagon in Lent, our options aren’t simply between giving up or taking back control. Instead, our Lenten disciplines should help us follow Jesus more attentively.

If you have fallen away from your Lenten practice, there’s no scorebook where you’ll be penalized. It might be a good time to re-evaluate what you are committing to and why, and to listen for ways the Lord might be leading you in a new direction.

In Lent, we remember Jesus who himself fell three times en route to Calvary. And three times he got back up and continued on. In Lent, as in all seasons, Jesus is our companion and guide. No matter how perfectly we’ve executed our Lenten disciplines so far, it’s never too late to continue to walk with Him toward Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

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