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My Take: Snap out of spiritual slump with Lent
Catholics traditionally mark the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, but Lent is for Protestants too, Mark Batterson writes.
April 3rd, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: Snap out of spiritual slump with Lent

Editor's Note: Mark Batterson is lead pastor at the National Community Church in Washington, D.C. He is the author of “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” “Wild Goose Chase” and “Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity.”

By Mark Batterson, Special to CNN

When I was a seminary student, my wife and I went to downtown Chicago for a taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” When the producer came out to prep us for the show, I was embarrassed for him because he had dirt on his forehead. Didn’t he look in the mirror that morning? Why didn’t someone tell him? My embarrassment for him turned into embarrassment for myself when I discovered it was Ash Wednesday and the dirt on his forehead was actually ashes that symbolized the day of repentance that begins Lent.

I grew up going to a wide variety of Protestant churches, but none of them practiced or even mentioned Lent. It wasn’t until a few years ago, well into my tenure as lead pastor of National Community Church, that I discovered the value of Lent. It has since become a meaningful season in the cycle of my spiritual life. During the last few Lenten seasons, I’ve incorporated a fast into my routine. One year I gave up television. Another year I gave up soda. I’ve also done a variety of food fasts for Lent.

In my experience, giving something up for Lent has made the Easter celebration far more meaningful and even helped me develop the spiritual discipline of fasting. Fasting during Lent has helped me identify with the sacrifices Christ has made for me, and it’s also helped me focus on the reason for the season. The celebration of the resurrection of Christ has become far more meaningful since I started observing Lent.

The church I pastor is a rather non-traditional Protestant church. We are absolutely orthodox in theology but a little unorthodox in practice. We meet in five different theaters around the metro D.C. area. We own and operate a coffeehouse on Capitol Hill that gives all of its net profits to local community projects and humanitarian causes in other countries.

Along with new innovations, however, we’ve also rediscovered the value the ancient traditions. While we may not practice Lent the same way the Catholic church does, we are reinventing it in a way that is meaningful to us. We put our unique fingerprint on those traditions, and that keeps them from being empty rituals.

I’m afraid that many Protestant churches have a very short-term memory. For them, church history only goes back to the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther. While we may have our theological differences, we share a long history, and I believe there are things that Protestant and Catholic churches can learn from each other in ways that don’t compromise their core beliefs.

I for one am thankful for the Lenten tradition that has been cultivated, celebrated and cherished within the Catholic church. I think more Protestant churches will re-adopt some of those traditions that are part of our common church history from before the Protestant Reformation.

I think of Lent as a spiritual pre-season of sorts. The six Sundays leading up to Easter are considered mini-Easters. Like pre-season games, they prepare us for the ultimate celebration in Christendom: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And one of the benefits, not unlike the Advent celebration surrounding Christmas, is that the celebration is extended to a longer period of time.

A few years ago I came up with a formula for spiritual growth: change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.

Let me explain what it means.

The key to spiritual growth is developing healthy and holy routines. They are called spiritual disciplines. But once the routine becomes routine, you need to disrupt the routine via a change of pace or change of place. Why? Because sacred routines can become empty rituals if you forget why you started doing them in the first place.

I’m certainly not suggesting that routines are bad. Most of us practice a morning ritual that includes showering, brushing our teeth and putting on deodorant. On behalf of your family and friends, continue practicing those routines.

But here’s the spiritual catch-22: good routines can become bad routines if we don’t change the routine. When you start going through the motions spiritually, it’s time to mix up the routine. And Lent is a great opportunity for a natural change of pace.

Lent disrupts the status quo. It can get us out of an old routine and into a new routine.

In physical exercise, routines eventually become counterproductive. If you exercise your muscles the same way every time you work out, your muscles start adapting and stop growing. You need to disorient your muscles by changing your routine. And the same is true spiritually.

When I’m in a spiritual slump, I often snap out of it by a change of pace or a change of place. And it was Jesus who modeled this practice. He would often walk the beach or climb a mountain. I think those changes in geography are not disconnected from the practice of spirituality. It is a simple change of place that precipitates many of the epiphanies that happen in Scripture.

To snap out of a slump, sometimes all it takes is a small change in routine. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or nursing home. Start keeping a gratitude journal. Get plugged into a small group or Bible study. Take a day off and do a personal retreat. Or just get up a little earlier in the morning and spend a little extra time with God.

One of the small changes in routine that has helped me rejuvenate me is picking up a new translation of Scripture. New words help me think new thoughts. And while you can institute those changes at any time, Lent is a perfect excuse to mix up your spiritual routine.

Why not leverage Lent by mixing up your routine? If you do, you’ll celebrate Easter like you never have before.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Batterson

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Lent • Opinion • Protestant

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soundoff (834 Responses)
  1. TheRationale

    How about giving up guilt for Lent?

    April 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Frederica

      Sinful mankind needs guilt more than anything else. Without it people go insane sooner or later. Jesus alone provides salvation.

      April 4, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Leon

      Frederica....step away from the keyboard....and back up...farther....a little more.....and you fall out of the window. Good!

      April 4, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • Juanita

      POsted on wrong page! CNN fix these post boards!

      Juanita

      Jotte

      Well,all I can say,I hold nothing against anyone who is catholic,but I do beleive there is nothing I can learn from the catholicism, teaching to bow before statutes,praying the deads and for the deads,with a pope considered God on earth and.....why?If my faith relies on doing something like that to make myself pure or get me closer to God,I am still in the darkness.there is nothing one can do to get closer to God but to recognize oue nothingness and know we are all sinners,saved by grace,yes.But when we leave the biblical teaching and practice our own thing,which was the idea of someone,trtadition of men,that has nothing to do with the Bible,we are all fooling ourselves.The question is,is it the tradition of man or the tradition of God?
      Show me from any stand point where it is recommanded in the bible.All I have to do follow the word of God: be holy because your father is holy,leave a sinless life which means do not plan to sin, according to 1 John 1:9 and 1 John 2:1 and pray that the holy spirit indwell which will enable us to do the work of Jesus and be prepared for his second return.

      Well stated facts. I agree with you.
      Sell all you have and follow me, would be hard for the Catholic Church!

      The vatican and all that stuff...google it. See the vast welath in gold and precious syones that adorn all those relics. There was even a gold coach, which carried some of the popes. Wonder what Jesus would think about all that?

      April 4, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  2. DonnaJPark

    Somehow we have to get it through to the the followers of Islam that there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are both appalled and infuriated by the actions of one egotistical bigot. QUIT LUMPING ALL AMERICANS with THE IDIOT WHO BURNED THE KORAN.

    April 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • g

      u mad?

      April 4, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  3. Jotte

    Well,all I can say,I hold nothing against anyone who is catholic,but I do beleive there is nothing I can learn from the catholicism, teaching to bow before statutes,praying the deads and for the deads,with a pope considered God on earth and.....why?If my faith relies on doing something like that to make myself pure or get me closer to God,I am still in the darkness.there is nothing one can do to get closer to God but to recognize oue nothingness and know we are all sinners,saved by grace,yes.But when we leave the biblical teaching and practice our own thing,which was the idea of someone,trtadition of men,that has nothing to do with the Bible,we are all fooling ourselves.The question is,is it the tradition of man or the tradition of God?
    Show me from any stand point where it is recommanded in the bible.All I have to do follow the word of God: be holy because your father is holy,leave a sinless life which means do not plan to sin, according to 1 John 1:9 and 1 John 2:1 and pray that the holy spirit indwell which will enable us to do the work of Jesus and be prepared for his second return.

    April 3, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  4. Glenc

    I agree. I was raised a Baptist and still attend a Baptist church, but while in the Army I was exposed to other protestant
    and Catholic faiths. There is a lot I enjoy from the other faiths. Lent is one. It does really bring the message of the Easter
    season to life.

    April 3, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Jotte

      Glenc,I forgive you if you do not know anything about nothing when it comes to this,yo didn't come to existence the way you probably think,God created you and for a reason,a purpose .You might need to find out the purpose,what should be important to you is your eternal life.

      April 3, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  5. EAS

    This is 2011. Who believes in this religious stuff anymore? I know religion may be comforting, but really, really?!! It's like debating whether Santa Claus gets aroud the earth so fast via time travel or slowing time down or having hs elves help out. How ridiculous! We really need to get beyond this voodoo religious stuff and focus on REAL issues that affect REAL people. There are just TOO MANY important issues facing us to waste our efforts debating such nonsense.

    April 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Rocket

    Why can't the Catholic Church sell all of those paintings and gold and cure world hunger? I'm sure if Jesus were around today he might ask the same question and has already thrown guys out on the streets for doing pretty much the same thing. All of these resources and money and maybe 1% going to help people who really need it. Instead, they built Vatican City. Gold is trading at record highs and they could probably do well as long as they don't use a mail us your gold service. But seriously the Catholic religion would do better if they cleaned house and got back to basics. No more Louis Vuitton, custom shoes, outrageous glamour. They are still just human beings..right? For some reason, I just can't see Jesus coming back, dressing the way they do in Vatican City, holding his nose up as high as they do, and sit on so many resources and not doing the right thing. It's very simple. The only thing in the way is ego and the fear in letting go of power and status. Imagine if they did do the right thing and sold all of those riches and helped out the world. It would make the deepest foot print ever made.

    April 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  7. Fr. Albert Cutie

    Excellent article. So true that many of our churches have lost their connection with apostolic practices an our common liturgical heritage.

    April 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Cheers!

      You sound drunk.

      April 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Da King

      Father, are you born again?

      April 4, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  8. Fr. Albert Cutie

    Excellent reflection... So true that many of our churches have lost their apostolic roots and liturgical heritage – especially seasons like Lent.

    April 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  9. James

    Is fasting good for your health?

    April 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Jotte

      Yes for your spiritual health,depending on how you do it,the reason and why you do it!

      April 3, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  10. Joseph

    "we put our own fingerprint on it"... All of these modern churches are taking ideas from the Catholic church and turning it into their own idea, which is out of context. Why not be Catholic?

    The Eucharist, it originated in the Catholic church, all the other churches branch off, take the idea and use it as just a "symbol" like many other things they pick and choose what to take.

    April 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  11. AK

    For once I didn't bother reading many other posts. Any religious article brings out the haters and of them I am just plain bored of them. The civil ones I picked out were enjoyable.

    Pastor, what a refreshing article! I am a practicing Catholic, and in my back-NorthEast youth the relationship between Catholics and mainstream Protestants was for the most part cordial and quietly tolerant. A Southern education and military career culminating in Colorado Springs exposed me repeatedly to the miserably intolerant nature of many (certainly not all, but enough to leave a mark) Protestant Evangelicals. I wish I had a dollar for every time I or my children have been told that we were hell-bound idol worshipers. I could start my own church.

    That is why I so enjoyed your article – breath of fresh air it was to me.

    April 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Bwahaha

      You are a hell-bound idol worshiper! You will burn for all eternity! Yesssss!

      April 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  12. David

    Friends, look about you today and consider: "What fools we mortals be." Our history of hocus pocus religious nonsense and differences is the very basis for ALL the major problems of humankind today. If we can just learn to accept the ONE scientifically reasoned and simple happy truth – death is the only possible happy end, so make it happy, period – full stop.

    April 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  13. Breed11

    Catholicism, what a joke.

    April 3, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Blahging

      and all the pedopriests are laughing

      April 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  14. Mark from Middle River

    I grew up A.M.E. but in a predominately Catholic town. I have celebrated Lent for most of my life. This year its been rough but another joyous time.

    April 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Becky

      You grew up Asinine, Malnourished, and Error-prone? You poor kid.

      April 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Da King

      Now she's angry because this guy likes church.

      April 3, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  15. bp

    Jeez as much as I would love to have this discussion this topic page is to broke, maybe bring it up in a newer topic sometime

    April 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • airwx

      Agreed

      April 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  16. bp

    Wow 15.2 billion years? I don't even think the Earth is that old. Maybe I'm conservative but best evidence is 4.3 billion years. I wasn't arguing the age of the Earth by bible standards anyways. But most christians think the world is 6k years old and if they take the bible literally like Mark said then you can use the event in the bible to get a general timeline of approx 6K years old. (Gah I know this cause I went to a religious school back in the day and was taught this garbage)

    Had to repost this cause it went to the top of the page for some reason. This forum is broke!

    April 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • airwx

      We're chasing each other....I would add one thought to your "most Christians"...I take it you mean the ones who do not study the ancient texts or at least learn enough in the classical languages to back translate for themselves.

      April 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  17. SS

    Its a spiritual thing. But for doing it as an act of faith not religiosity, you must:
    1. Be led of the Spirit
    2. Be ready to be surprised by discovering your weaknesses
    3. The ultimate objective is to walk on water i.e. stop relying on things we have to complete reliance on God in the absence of those comforts.

    April 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Becky

      Judging from the results, I'd say that "acting like retards" is considered the primary focus of Christianity.

      April 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Da King

      Becky has on her eternal blinders I am sorry to say.

      April 3, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  18. bp

    Wow 15.2 billion years? I don't even think the Earth is that old. Maybe I'm conservative but best evidence is 4.3 billion years. I wasn't arguing the age of the Earth by bible standards anyways. But most christians think the world is 6k years old and if they take the bible literally like Mark said then you can use the event in the bible to get a general timeline of approx 6K years old. (Gah I know this cause I went to a religious school back in the day and was taught this garbage)

    April 3, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • airwx

      I did state that was the age of the universe, not the earth....the bot is acting up so replies are going everywhere

      April 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      bp, I'm a practicing Christian and when other Christian talk about this earth age, they will say it's between 7,000-14,000 years old. The Bible talks about the foundation of the earth, which is different than when God created this earth age, after destroying the 1st earth age when Satan rebelled against God due to the sin of Pride wanting to be bigger and better than God. Satan deceived 1/3 of God's angels to rebel against God also.

      Anyway, that phony baloney lie about the earth being about 6,000 years old is only believed by non-Christians. Don't pin that lie on us. We know Jesus Christ's truth.

      Amen.

      Amen.

      April 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • cnn134

      5501 before christ + 2011 after = 7512 years to be exact

      April 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Cheers!

      That is one damn big hefty pile of BS over all those years. Martini?

      April 3, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  19. Andrea M

    I'm good thank you. Easter to me is the season of biting open Cadbury eggs and licking out the filling.

    April 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  20. albert

    I always find it odd when these so-called Christians teach things that are not even Biblical. Did the person who wrote this article even use scriptures? At any rate, these are not the teachings of Christ. The word Easter is not even found in the Bible nor are the Easter bunny, Easter eggs etc. These are actually pagan rituals. Jesus even questioned these types of teachings Matthew 15:3. If you are looking for truth, follow the Bible and not man. Through process of elimination, any church that celebrates Easter is a false religion.

    April 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • locke

      matthew 16:19... whatever is bound on earth...

      also, technically the bible says that shellfish is a sin but owning a slave from a different country is not... i believe these notions are now switched? no? also, god loves everyone so why does anyone think that god hates any group?

      April 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Orthodox

      Hey Albert, The Holy trinity, Jesus being fully God and fully man, and that being born again is a religious experience separate from baptism aren't in the bible either. Can we eliminate the churches that teach those things as well?

      April 3, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • cnn134

      easter is in the bible actually in all the gospols in (chapter 28 of mathew, john, 20 mark 16, luke 24) all of which abviously talked about the resuraction, i am with you the egg and the bunny are not biblical it is symbols to explain the resuraction for childrens not adults, I am with you in that .

      April 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Paul Blake

      Better figure out who put together the Bible firstmy friend.....

      April 3, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • gerald

      We celebrate the resurrection of Christ and that just isn't good enough for you. You have to nit pick it. bunny's and eggs are not pagan. God created them. They represent new life. Perfect to go with easter, though they are not catholic doctrine but symbols. Why not capture back these symbols for the one true God. That pagans used them is immaterial.

      April 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • gerald

      Hey Albert, man that Paul guy in ACts 17 using an altar to an unknown God to explain Christ to the Athenians right in the midst of all those pagan temples. He even goes so far as to quote a pagan sage "in him we live and move and have our being". Many, he turned Christianity in to paganism. Why it's unbiblical to use pagan things and terms and altars. Oh wait Paul took care of that by putting such actions in the Bible.

      April 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Chris

      A false religion is STILL a religion! It's just as valid as your "religion" is, they are all the same!

      If you really thing about it, all religions serve the same purpose.

      April 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Orthodox,

      Being born again is what Baptism is all about

      April 3, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Da King

      Most of the people responding to Albert have obviously not read the Bible. They must be stating what someone told them who also did not read. Read the Book of John and believe what you read. You will be Born again. The official catholic calls it being born from above. Catholicism is greatly about authority. They don't want you to go directly to God. They want you to go directly to your priest who is most likely not born again. They are lost in the Liturgy or worst. Some priests are real though.

      April 4, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • gerald

      Da King,

      Clearly you are only posting what you have heard about Catholics. We pray to God directly. We don't always go to the priest. That is silly. From what I have heard protestants go to their pastors for counseling as much and maybe more than Catholics go to priests.

      April 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
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