Lent will soon be upon us, with its opportunities for taking up spiritual disciplines for a season, doing those things which we know deep down are good for our spiritual health, but often struggle to commit to. Our culture is increasingly short-term, getting people to sign up for anything which stretches indefinitely into the future is challenging, but most of us can manage something for six weeks. And the good news is, research shows it takes about six weeks to form a habit!
So which Lenten discipline might we consider in 2020? What is going to be of most benefit for our growth as disciples of Jesus, as kingdom people? For some of us, it may be good to take up something new, like joining a Lent study group in our church, or committing to daily bible readings in one of the many excellent resources available. Others will want to fast from something for the entire season, or a day a week. This may be physical fasting from food, or alcohol or chocolate, or perhaps a lifestyle fast, cutting out social media or TV. The key thing is that all these disciplines serve to help us focus more on God, making some space in our lives to pray and listen to him. Perhaps we may simply want to do something we are already doing, but more intentionally and regularly, with more focus, giving a little more time and effort to it.
Discipline is hard work! If our souls, bodies or minds are not stretched by our Lenten endeavours, we are probably not being disciplined enough. I am learning a great deal about physical discipline as I undertake training for running my first marathon at the end of April. The fact that so many lovely supporters are sponsoring me to raise funds for the Children’s Society means I have further incentive to keep going, but on a cold and wet day, getting my running shoes on is all about discipline, mind over matter, doing what I have committed to, however it feels. Sometimes it is inconvenient, sometimes it hurts, but I know that I have to keep going, or I will never complete the race before me.
Often when I run, God reveals to me how spiritual disciplines can be similar to physical ones. Routine, habit, consistency are all the staples for health and fitness whether that is in our physical or spiritual life. I will be praying on my ever-longer runs, and using that space away from the phone and email to build my relationship with God, asking him to show me where I need better patterns in my spiritual disciplines to grow closer to him.
My hope is that my new running regime won’t stop at the London Marathon finish line, and that (after a suitable rest!), I will maintain my new level of fitness. I hope and pray too that all of us who take up new spiritual disciplines for Lent will build healthy habits which stay with us and help us mature as followers of Jesus will beyond Holy Week. Just like my running, they will require effort, and also appropriate rest!
The Venerable Nikki Groarke
Archdeacon of Dudley