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Lent As a Project

Lent As a Project

Editor’s Note: “What are you giving up for Lent?”. Chocolate? Designer coffee? Social media? Carbs? Forty days later, some feel disappointed, some feel surprised by their success, but perhaps few feel spiritually renewed. We ache to meaningfully honor Christ’s resurrection. Yet, in practice, this focal point in the liturgical calendar is often a celebration of public holiday more than it is of humanity’s hope. 40 Days of Decrease invites you to thin your life to thicken your communion with God.

Lent begins February 14th!


We ache deep within to meaningfully honor Christ’s resurrection. Yet, in practice, this focal point in the liturgical calendar is often a celebration of public holiday more than it is of humanity’s hope. At day’s end, we fall asleep well fed and perhaps even grateful, yet still somehow something short of awed. Inspired by the church’s ancient tradition of Lent, we then add discipline to the celebration, voluntarily adopting a form of temporary discomfort to self with the intention of bringing to mind the discomfort of the cross (which is unspeakable). And still, our twenty-first-century discomfort remains mild and our first-century remembrance remains meager.

Christian spirituality is not a life project for becoming a better person. ~ Eugene Peterson1

Though what is specifically “given up for Lent” shifts from generation to generation, the broad categories of entertainment, pleasure, and food have remained constant through the centuries. Caffeine, chocolate, designer coffee, carbs, and social media currently rank among the more popular offerings. In an age suffocating in self, any willful fast from what much of the planet would deem a luxury is to be commended. However, since commendation cannot be confused with preparation, I must ask: can such polite fasts alone truly prepare us to be awed by Christ’s resurrection? In English, the Latin Mortem tuam annuntiámus, Dómine, et tuam resurrectiónem confitémur, donec vénias is translated as, “Your death we proclaim, Lord, and your resurrection we confess, until you come.”2 This generation is, perhaps, more familiar with the popular adaption:

Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.3

Indeed. So, are we awed?

  • God seems more interested in what we are becoming than in what we are giving up.

As David sang,

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
Psalm 51:16–17

Faith, in general, is less about the sacrifice of stuff and more about the surrender of our souls. Lent, in kind, is less about well-mannered denials and more about thinning our lives in order to thicken our communion with God.

Decrease is holy only when its destination is love.


Reflect upon your personal preparation for Easter to date. Recall any knowledge of the church’s historical Lenten practices. If this is not your first experience, in what ways have you thinned your life in order to thicken your communion with God in previous seasons?

Now consider a key question: why are you setting aside forty days to honor Jesus’ death and resurrection this year?

Today’s Fast: Lent As a Project

Lent is often, and understandably, described with project language. The season has a starting date, an ending date, and clear, quantifiable goals “to accomplish” in between. After Easter, consequently, we evaluate Lent with project language. We “did okay” or “only made it two weeks” or “kept our commitment” or “totally failed.”

Whether engaging this experience prior to Easter, or at another time during the year, from day one, I invite you to consider Lent as less of a project and more of a sojourn. A sojourn is a “temporary stay at a place.”4 And a “stay” is about presence, not productivity. For the next forty days, fast measuring your “success” statistically — that is, resist calculating how often you keep your commitment to do without meat or sugar or your favorite shows. Instead, invest your energy in seeking to remain present to the sacred history of Jesus’ walk to
the cross. With each reading, dust off your childhood imagination and “stay” in each story.

Observe Jesus’ response to John’s death. Imagine yourself as one of the disciples trying in vain to hush blind Bartimaeus. Throw your only cloak under the colt’s hooves as Jesus enters Jerusalem. Taste the mounting tension as Jesus offends leaders with parables. Hear Jesus predict Peter’s denial.

  • Fast Lent as project and enter Lent as experience, as a sojourn with your Savior.

Spiritual disciplines do not transform, they only become relational opportunities to open the heart to the Spirit who transforms. ~ John H. Coe5

  1. Eugene Peterson, “Transparent Lives,” The Christian Century 23, November 29, 2003: 23.
  2. From The Center for Liturgy at St. Louis University, accessed December 15, 2014,
  3. This first of three acclamations making up the Memorial Acclamation in the first English version of the Roman Missal has been described as more of a Latin adaptation than a Latin translation. As of 2008, the first acclamation of what is now called the Mystery of Faith reads, “Dying you destroyed our death. Rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.” See, accessed June 3, 2015.
  4. OED Online, s. v. “sojourn, n.,” accessed December 22, 2014,
  5. John H. Coe, “Resisting the Temptation of Moral Formation: Opening to Spiritual Formation in the Cross of the Spirit,” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 1, no. 1 (March 1, 2008): 77.

Excerpted with permission from Forty Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole, copyright Alicia Britt Chole.

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Your Turn

If you’ve fasted during Lent in the past, has it seemed like a project to you? This year, let’s approach Lent as a spiritual experience with Jesus Himself. Let’s set aside something and use that time or that thing to remember Jesus and honor Him. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear what you’re setting aside for Him. ~ Devotionals Daily