I don’t think of Lent as a time to form habits. Not necessarily. I think of it as a time to give up and embracing. Embracing something new always has in it surrender. And surrender always has offers something new.
So what if I approached Lent as a time of testing? Not being tested as much as testing new routines.
For example, what if I give up 10 minutes of web-browsing every morning and spend that 10 minutes talking with God. That’s a form of fasting, yes. But not if we phrase it the other way. I want to spend 10 minutes each morning talking with God. Listening, complaining, lamenting, thanking, reading. It means that I’m taking 10 minutes of doomscrolling out of my morning. After 40 days, I can find out whether I needed that ten minutes of doomscrolling as much as I thought.
But before we get to Lent, before we look too deeply at those habits, let’s talk about routines and rituals.
For me, a routine is a set of thoughts and behaviors performed consistently. Repeated actions, routines, shape us and can then remind us of the context. It can be a bad thing, like flashbacks, or it can be a very helpful thing, being reminded of commitments.
It’s easy to turn a routine, a way of living, into a ritual. We perform a ritual, hoping it has some value in itself. It’s a kind of magic. We wear our lucky underwear. We show up to church every week.
When we look at the Old Testament, we see God, through his prophets, pointing out how actions of sacrifice, fasting, and Sabbath had become rituals to placate God, performed without thinking. Bodies did the sacrifice, minds and hearts were somewhere else. But just because we ritualize behavior doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look at routine.
Think of it this way: a ritual is something we do hoping to influence God. A routine is something we do to work on us. A routine like daily prayer or weekly Sabbath or a season of fasting can bring our minds back to the story of God’s work.
This is an excerpt from Lent for Non-Lent People. If it’s helpful, I’d love for you to look at the whole book.