Ideas for Things to Take On or Give Up This Lent

Maria Troutman

Ideas for Things to Take On or Give Up This Lent

Ash Wednesday approaches and we, like Our Lord, must retreat into the desert to watch, fast, and pray in preparation for the long, arduous climb towards Calvary. It is, to use St. Paul’s terminology, a race that must be run with an eye towards victory. We must prepare, and prepare well, for sooner than we realize, we will be falling asleep alongside the three favored Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane when we ought to be keeping watch with Our Lord; sooner than we realize, we will flee from the bitter Passion when we ought to be standing at the foot of the Cross.

How do we prepare? How do we develop the endurance we need to be witnesses to the suffering and death of Christ and be found watching and waiting at dawn on Easter morning? We must make use of the three pillars which the Church has given us: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If you are typically in the habit of making the same Lenten resolutions every year—giving up chocolate, perhaps?—but never seem to see any real fruits from those resolutions in your spiritual life, here are some ideas that will hopefully aid you in preparing for the ever-new unfolding of the Paschal Mysteries.



Does your parish offer the Stations of the Cross every Friday? Try to make it to the Stations at the church if you can, but if you can’t make it, why not do the Stations of the Cross in your own home? Find images online depicting each of the fourteen stations, print them out, and hang them up chronologically in your home or yard. Prayers for the Stations are available in many shapes and sizes; find one that you love and print it out as well. If you have children, have them move from station to station with you as you pray out loud and meditate together on the Passion of Our Lord. Praying the Stations of the Cross can help us—both young and old—visualize the sufferings of Our Lord as we walk the path to Calvary with Him in our hearts. 

Are you familiar with the Chaplet of Our Lady of Sorrows? To pray it, you say seven Hail Marys as you meditate on each of the Blessed Mother’s seven sorrows. There is no better time to pray the Chaplet than during Lent, for as you pray, you console the hearts of Our Lord and Our Lady and you soften your own heart to their sufferings. Consider inviting extended family members or friends to join you once a week for the duration of the Lenten season for soup and sorrows! Make a simple soup and perhaps some sourdough, and pray the Chaplet of Our Lady of Sorrows together. This is an excellent way to both pray and practice generosity with your neighbors. 

Do you struggle with establishing habits within your spiritual life? Once again, there is no better time to begin than during Lent. Consider adding one of these practices to your prayer life: weekly confession or confession every other week; daily Mass at least twice a week; or a daily Rosary. Any of these three things, when done out of love of God day in and day out, will help your spiritual life flourish. If it feels like too much, remember than Lent is only forty days. It may be difficult to begin, but you can do almost anything for forty days. And if you are able to sustain the practice that long, you may find that after Lent has ended, you will want to keep going. 



In his wonderful book Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales speaks about the hypocrisy of a man who thinks himself an exemplary and holy man because he sets strict fasts for himself, yet “his heart is full of bitterness”; and although he will abstain abstain from alcohol and even water, “he does not scruple to steep [his lips] in his neighbor’s blood through slander and detraction.” That is to say, he—like the Pharisees—concerns himself with religious accomplishments that are otherwise empty because they do not pour forth from an abundance of Christian charity. We cannot make advances in the spiritual life if we fast from foods and drinks we love but we are starving our neighbors of the Christian charity that is their due as sons and daughters of God. 

By all means, if you are very attached to having a cookie when you get home from work or to ordering chips with your sandwich every day, or even to adding extra salt to your food, by all means, give that up during Lent and lovingly offer that sacrifice up to Our Lord, and let every longing for what you have given up become an opportunity for you to tell Him that you love Him more than any other thing on earth. But, I encourage you to give up the following things too: gossiping; following social media accounts that disturb your peace so much that they distract you from your daily duties; speaking in condescending, disrespectful, or otherwise rude tones; and lying, even about the smallest thing. Be mindful not only of what enters your mouth, but especially of what leaves it, and do not let your words defile your tongue! Our Lord Himself tells us in the Gospel of St. Matthew that “in the day of judgement, men will be brought to account for every thoughtless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36).



The three pillars of Lent work synergistically and flow easily from and into each other. In a sense, almsgiving will be an extension of what you can accomplish in your prayer and fasting. Essentially, almsgiving will give you the framework you need to be generous with the gifts the Lord has given you. 

When you pray your extra rosary or Chaplet or the Stations of the Cross, offer up your prayers for a friend or colleague who needs your intercession. It is important for us to pray for those we love, and by praying for someone, you are giving of your time—the most important resource we have. 

If you are fasting from your daily coffee and donut or are giving up eating at your favorite restaurant every week, instead of looking at your fasting as a way of saving money, calculate how much money you would have otherwise been spending and give it away. You can do something as simple as putting it into the collection basket at Mass on Sunday or be more creative. Here are some other ideas: put together bags with personal care items for any homeless men or women you see on your morning commute; buy diapers and wipes to donate to your local pregnancy resource center; invite your priest over for dinner and be generous with your portions; make big batches of vegetarian soup and bread and deliver them to families with lots of young children who might struggle with ideas for meatless Fridays. There is no limit to the ways you can practice almsgiving! Choose to look at almsgiving as an opportunity rather than a hindrance or an annoyance; through this pillar, the Church reminds us that prayer and fasting mean very little if they do not spring forth from a truly Christian love of both God and fellow man. 


May this coming Lent be a means of your sanctification, and may you prepare for the race so well that when the day comes, you will not shy away from the ugliness of the Passion, but will embrace the Cross alongside Our Lord, and will therefore be found worthy of encountering the resurrected Christ on Easter Sunday.