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​How do you observe Lent?

Lifeway recently released a survey on Lent practices in America, and I was surprised by some of the results. While I knew that Catholics and the more liturgical denominations seek to draw closer to God by abstaining from certain foods or practices, I was amazed to learn that nearly 1 in 3 evangelicals now practices Lent.

As I would have guessed, fasting from a favorite food or beverage is the most common way to observe Lent. But I was surprised to learn that going to church was equally high on the list (57%), followed by praying more (39%), and giving to others (38%).

These positive ways of preparing for Easter–worship, prayer, and giving–got me thinking: instead of giving up something for Lent this year, what practices could I add during this season to draw closer to God?

Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday–March 1 this year–and ends during Holy Week, is traditionally seen as a time to prepare for our hearts for Easter. Part of that preparation often includes fasting–a practice that dates back to the early church.

But I was intrigued by the idea of adding rather than subtracting something during the coming 40 days. So I tossed around the idea with some friends, and here are 10 ideas we came up with and some of their comments:

  • Ask five colleagues how you can pray for them, and commit to praying for your list every day. "I keep a list on my desk and pray first thing when I arrive at the office."
  • Spend five minutes on your knees each day listening to God. "At first I set my phone alarm for five minutes, but to my surprise I nearly always end up praying longer."
  • Invite someone new to fellowship with you over a meal at least once each week. For example, this Friday we are having a young, newlywed couple over for dinner. We have been friends with her dad and late mother for years, but are excited to get to know their daughter and son-in-law better.
  • Take a walk and pray for the homes you pass. "This helps me remember my neighbors who I so often forget." Bonus: bring a bag, and pick up trash as you walk!
  • Ask God to provide new opportunities for helping others and then give generously.
  • Sing a psalm out loud each day. Here's a tool to get you started.
  • Memorize a Bible verse each day. "I'm using Liz Curtis Higgs' 31 Verses to help me."
  • Give away at least one Bible or faith-based book every week. "I keep several copies of Mere Christianity on hand so I always have one to give away."
  • Find a prayer partner and encourage each other to keep a weekly Sabbath. Send a text on Saturday wishing them a renewing and restful Shabbat.
  • Instead of checking the news each day, listen to an inspiring podcast or have a daily devotional sent to you.

As for me, I've decided to keep an appreciation journal focused on my husband throughout this Easter season. So often it's the ones we are closest to that we take for granted. Recording specific acts or words from Matthew that I appreciate will not only help my marriage, it will open my eyes and soften my heart for the many ways that Jesus loves his bride–you and me and the family of believers–each and every day.