February 22, 2012 10:29:00 AM
If you see someone today with what looks to be a cross drawn with ashes on their foreheads, do not be alarmed. Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the observance of Lent. The day derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of worshippers.
Ash Wednesday, in the calendar of Western Christianity, is the first day of Lent and occurs the 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and some Baptist denominations observe Lent. For many Christians, Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance, a time of rededication and sacrifice.
Observers of the tradition "give up" something for the period leading up to Easter. In doing so, the Christian imitates Jesus' sacrifice, the 40 days he spent wandering in the desert before taking up his ministry.
Regardless of one's religion, or lack thereof, we think the practice bears consideration. Easter is synonymous with spring and spring with rebirth.
Why not try giving up or adding something that takes you out of your comfort zone as a personal observance of Lent? The options, like human vices, are almost infinite. We found a list of intriguing ideas on a website called lifeteen.com, an online community for Catholic teenagers:
-- "I'm addicted to caffeine so I gave up all drinks but water for Lent two years ago." - Amanda
-- "Last year I didn't give up anything for Lent, just added more prayer life. This year I am going to add more prayer life and give up Facebook." - Josephina
-- "I gave up spoons and forks. I learned to use chopsticks. It was funny for my friends and made it easy to talk about Lent in a way that people were cool with. We laughed a lot." - Matt
-- "I've heard of people giving up their beds for Lent. They slept on the floor or the couch." - Anna
-- "I fasted for all of Lent one year. One meal a day really brings souls to Jesus, especially your own!" - Erika
-- "I'm going to treat my body as a temple of God during Lent ... everything I read, watch, listen to, eat, drink, do, say, etc. ... focusing on being a temple of God." - Paul
-- "One year for Lent I wrote a letter each day. I made a list of 40 people who have touched my life in one way or another. Each day of Lent, I wrote a person on the list a letter of thanks for how they touched my life and I prayed for that person on that day ... it was a WONDERFUL experience." - Patty
-- "This year, I'm giving up the radio in my car in order to focus more on the things that are around me that God created! I can't wait so I've already started doing it!" - Joshua
-- "One year I gave up my bed. I slept outside in a tent. And I live in Canada! So it was well below freezing! I even kept a blog on Myspace (that's all there was at the time!) Another year I made a few shirts out of burlap, and wore one under my regular clothes for all of Lent. Both were hard, but really helped me those years." - Brandon
-- "This year, I'm giving up all sweets, (I work at a frozen yogurt shop) and am going to use the constant reminder to pray for one person in particular every day. I made a list/calendar via Facebook of friends that need/want prayer." - Aimee
-- "I have an issue with vanity, especially when I get ready in the morning. So I decided a couple years ago to just wear the first outfit I put on every morning. What I learned from that was how to get a source of self-esteem beyond my outfits." - Carrie, a Life Teen missionary
-- "I didn't do this, but last year two of my friends gave up warm water for their showers." - Maria
-- "This year I'm giving up having my phone with me during the day because I'm always checking my email throughout the day. My hope is that having moderation I can be more present to the people around me. I want them to see my deeper connection with God." - Kaitlin, a Life Teen missionary
-- "I want to listen more." - Carmelina
Lots of good ideas -- except the idea of cold showers, brrrr. Couldn't we all benefit from one less bad habit? The Lenten season offers just such an opportunity.