I love the physicality of Ash Wednesday. In a sterilized world growing more and more devoid of touch, that thumb-to-forehead transference of ashy black smudge feels deeply sacramental. I suspect this is one of many reasons people love Ash Wednesday.
For those of you still deciding what to do for Lent, and are perhaps looking beyond the old “give up sweets” routine, I offer the following:
1) Evangelical risk: Step out, go forth, and take a risk to open a God conversation with someone. Accompany, encourage, invite, share, pray with. Be a little uncomfortable, and see what God will do. Pope Francis approves of this message.
2) Intentional friendship: Who in your life do you respect and admire? Who helps you laugh, shine, be your better self? Whose company might be a blessing to you, if you invested more time – regularly, and scheduled? Make the time and reach out. Both of you will be better for it.
3) Gratitude journal: Get yourself a notebook – the fancier, the better (a fancy notebook is funner to use). Each day, during some quiet meditation, write down things from the previous day that you are grateful for. You’ll be surprised how many things you think of – and how much happier you are.
4) Encourage: Think of how good it feels receiving an unexpected compliment. Resolve to send one encouraging message a day, via text, email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The more specific and thoughtful, the better. Just one such message can make a person’s day, week, or even month. J.R.R Tolkien once said that, without the encouragement from C.S. Lewis, the Lord of the Rings would never have been published. It makes you wonder what masterpieces have been lost, for simple lack of encouragement.
5) Positive technology: Pope Francis recently called the internet a “great gift.” Some suggest a Lenten technology fast. That’s one way to go. But how about USING technology for good? Tweet a daily Scripture quote, Facebook a Pope Francis quote, post a beautiful picture, share an inspiring song or video. Use the gift of technology to share beauty and truth. “Redeem” the internet.
6) Create: There is art in you! The world needs poets, authors, artisans, songwriters, inventors, graphic designers, and all manner of creatives - like you - to sing a new song. Intentionally engage your creativity and create art to delight, edify, inspire yourself and others!
7) Ship: “Real artists ship,” said Steve Jobs. “Ship” simply means: put it out there. Give it! Play that song. Read that poem. Publish that post. Shine that light. Share it! Don’t let perfectionism stop you from offering your art. We want it. We may even need it. You may be pleasantly surprised by the joy it brings others – and you.
8) Listen: Never before in history has there been such access to solid audio content. The Beethoven symphonies and the chamber works of Mozart fit in my pocket, thanks to my iPod. There’s even an audiobook of Johnny Cash reading the New Testament! Free podcasts from speakers who, ten years ago, would cost $10,000 in consulting fees, are now a click away. Take advantage! Set aside time each day to listen to something true and beautiful.
9) Read: The average American reads a book a year. How sad. Leaders are readers, say succeeders. Today, a book is delivered in seconds to a mobile device. No need to even leave home! Pick a few good books and read them! Two suggestions are Mercy in the City by Kerry Weber (see #10), and The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis. There’s also my new e-book – it’s short! Also, see my “Resources” page.
10) Works of Mercy: Traditionally defined as: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead (Matt 25:31-46). Pope Francis has said: “How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!” Kerry Weber’s book describes how these changed her one Lent. By doing the same, we can love God by loving the poor.
The grace of Lent makes it a little easier to be - and do - good. Let’s capitalize, so the season is not wasted! This list can help our Lent bear abiding fruit, focusing us on making us and our world a little better.
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