Growing up, I didn't even know about Lent. The Pentecostal congregational style of discipleship was based on a few things: the Bible, prayers (public and private) and the work of the Holy Spirit (healings, prophecy, fillings, etc.).
There was a lot of activity, but there wasn't a lectionary-based movement from year to year. I remember times of fasting, but they were not in the context of traditional seasons and were called upon by the church leadership from time to time.
Three years ago, I found myself going to a Methodist church. I've had time to slowly acclimate to the traditional forms, and I've grown to love them. Why?
1. They remind us each year of some of the most important themes of Christianity.
2. I also like it that the reading of the whole Bible is possible if one follows the lectionary for a few years.
3. Repetition is the Mother of All Learning (I learned that in Russian language class, and it is true), and repetition each year helps me to try to get things right that have done wrong.
I participated in Lent for the first time last year. What was I going to give up? I figured it should not be something easily given, so I picked television. At the time I was watching a lot of comedy programming in the evenings, and I felt it would be hard to do. I like a challenge, so I did it. My wife decided that she would give up cheese (which turned out to be the hardest fast of all -- cheese is on EVERYTHING). I read more than I have ever read in that time period. It was a good time, and I felt my spirit lifting as I read about Christ's wilderness experience.
Now, Lent is upon me again. I asked my wife what we would be doing this year. She instantly mentioned that I should try giving up video games. She would give up desserts. I noticed that her options always have a health kick in them -- which isn't bad, God calls us to take care of our bodies (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19), so it works.
I felt that I needed something different this year, however, and I noticed a different nuance of Lent that appealed to me. Rather than merely stripping something away, I could add some small things that would bring me closer to God.
Every week at youth group, I encourage young people to read their Bibles regularly, pray regularly and spend time with God. I find that in the midst of working the ministry, I often find myself paddling the boat, forgetting God has an engine on the back. I end up struggling quite a bit, and then I remember that I need to get back into the habit of regular Bible study and prayer. I'm not talking about what I do for youth group devotions or studying for the Confirmation class I teach. I'm not even talking about the Scripture I read as I write my articles for the local newspaper. I need to spend some time reading Scripture that will speak to my soul. It is for me alone; from God to my spirit. In my walk with God, I need words of life constantly.
So I started reading a youth devotional by Josh McDowell, and it is on my phone. I always have my phone so I never have an excuse not to read, and the devotional includes a basic prayer that I can read and make my own. I like that.
So this Lent, I have decided to add rather than subtract. I feel good about this and I'm excited where I'll go with my Lord this year.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.