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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. John Richardson

    In terms of ritual, Christianity and especially Catholicism is largely retread Euro-Paganism, which is about the only thing about it that is respectable. I'd like to know the pre-Christian history of Lent. Easter and Christmas are obvious pagan holidays co-opted by the church. And amazingly, the new(er) myths tied to the Christian redos of these holidays are even more ridiculous than pagan myths.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  2. EvolvedDNA

    Rob You said.. I also believe in absolute evil
    because of all the animals, only man kills for no reason This is not true.. there has been great violence witnessed by anthropologists studying monkeys, apes in the wild. Gangs of apes go in and raid and kill individuals in another ape colony, and there is some evidence of planning on the part of the raiding party. As Humans evolved from the same evolutionary branches as these , and as we have larger brains, our capacity for greater harm and then try to rationalize it in, say, defending a perceived god could be easy.

    April 6, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  3. fedup

    donates profits to causes out of the country..... That is a problem.

    April 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  4. Bibletruth

    Snap out of a spiritual slump with lent..........now thats certainly biblical..lol
    How about snapping out of a spiritual slump by becoming born again and keeping the commandments of God.

    April 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  5. CatholicMom

    Dear Reality,
    You put too much faith if false prophets!

    April 5, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  6. Christopher

    Thank You God! Thank You for being bigger and smarter and more vast than denominations. Thank You for being more than human words can ever describe and more than human minds can ever comprehend. Thank You for all your children; Even if they mistakenly think they're closer to You than their neighbors and even if they don't know You. Thank you for creation, it's awesome.

    Thank You for the blessings of life and love. I am grateful. Amen.

    April 5, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  7. Frederica

    It's impossible to invent historical Jesus of Nazareth, especially the Gospel of John. John wrote as he witnessed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as he so testified. The text is supreme and the book's effect is supernatural. There are more scholars who recognize its authenticity.

    April 5, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • derp

      I recognize Harry Potter books existence. But I don't believe Voldemort is out to get me.

      Capiche?

      April 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Frederica.. they may recognize its authenticity but cannot prove its authenticity..big difference

      April 5, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Frederica

      EvolvedDNA, the Bible is more trustworthy than any historical records. You trust them; trust the Bible.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Frederica..without any evidence.. it cannot be trustworthy, you have no idea. You can claim anything you want from it as there is no expectation of confirmation ... and of course nothing could be confirmed. Perfect for superst-ition.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  8. Frederica

    The words and character of Jesus make us who trust Him feel, taste, think, analyze, experience, and appreciate God's truth and His life and the Holy Spirit allows us to construct, transmit and reproduce it in our lives...

    April 4, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  9. Bibletruth

    The celebration of Easter (Ishtar) as it is typically done by the mass of Christianity is one of the most pagan rituals there can ever be...a total insult to Jehovah, to Christ, and the Holy Spirit. When does easter fall? How is that day figured? How do the easter bunnies, hot cross buns, figure in? How does sunrise worhip, often going to a high place and facing the sun, etc. figure in. I am not interested in getting people upset...well maybe enough to get them to actually check things out..lol.....but all these things are purely pagan, their pure pagan roots are well known, and disguise them as you might, they are an homage to his Satanic majesty. I understand that many enter into these rituals/activities with a pure heart, believing they are honoring the resurrection of Christ. But I would ask you to burn the following words into your mind: God Does Nothing In Partnership With Satan.

    April 4, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Easter has nothing to do with Ishtar. Are you merely sounding out the words and since they sound similiar to you they must be connected? That's not how language works.

      Ishtar had to do with the Babylonians and Persians prior to the time of Christ. Easter had to do with the Roman Empire that did not have a huge following of Ishtar at all.

      If you are looking for a pagan connection to the word "Easter" try Ēostre. But keep in mind that just because a pagan source name got slapped onto the holiday DOES NOT mean that the holiday has anything to do with it.

      April 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Bibletruth.. and your rituals make more sense? you hung a guy on a cross and he came back to life.. rebirth... easter bunnies rebirth.. Spring... rebirth, sunrise rebirth. in an agrarian society spring was important in order to get a good growing season. You use pagan rituals but had to kill someone to make your ritual more in tune with the death cult that religions are.

      April 5, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  10. Bibletruth

    It sounds stranger still to those that read the bible and believe what they read.

    April 4, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Why?

      April 4, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  11. Bibletruth

    "thy way o God is in the Sanctuary"....It is impoosible...may I repeat, impossible, to understand the gospel without understanding the old testament sanctuary service..it is God's lesson book on the plan of salvation...It is the old testament that proves the messiahship of Christ, the Son of God...those who play a game about the new testament being disproved by some "scholars" etc, do not seem to know what they are talking about. Are they saying the same thing about the old testament? As Jesus told the Jews, " search the scriptures (old testament of course since that is all there was when Jesus spoke those words) , they are they which testify of me"

    April 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  12. Portlander

    I'm constantly surprised at the number of non-Catholic and actually non-religious people I know who like to participate in a Lenten sacrifice of some sort. They don't go to mass of course, but I think the practice of sacrifice appeals to them. Some even do no meat on Fridays. They often call it "doing Lent."
    Just goes to show that many people still feel like something is missing from their daily lives without a spiritual practice. Or perhaps they just want something "more" on a spiritual level.

    April 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Vaytin

      You're a poor liar.

      April 4, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  13. Squeezebox

    You don't have to give up anything for Lent if you don't want to, but you should do something. Sometimes it's a matter of adding something to your life rather than taking something away. How about setting aside an extra fifteen minutes a day for prayer? How about getting involved in a cause you believe in? Give your time, give your money, don't just sit there, do something!

    April 4, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Squeezebox wrote: "You don't have to give up anything for Lent if you don't want to, but you should do something... How about getting involved in a cause you believe in? Give your time, give your money, don't just sit there, do something!"

      I think I'll send a donation to American Atheists...

      April 4, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  14. derp

    Many years ago I could not figure out what to give up for lent. I decided to give up religion. Had a nice cheeseburger for lunch on Friday, and nobody put out a cigarrette on my forhead.

    Take that god, I outsmarted you once and for all.

    April 4, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Lycidas

      @derp- Your name suits you well.

      April 4, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • derp

      And your sounds like one of those stupid made up names black people give thier kids.

      What's your point?

      April 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  15. BrattySoul

    *bleah*
    what a long drawn out boring ideaology of Lent.

    Plenty of Protestants recognize Lenten season!!
    It represents not just 'giving something up' *rolls eyes* it represents the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness battling the devil and himself to do God's will. The giving up of his life.
    Being a Protestant and a former Catholic(being Protestant has special meaning for me AS a former Catholic), I see different sides to Lent and really in a Protestant church it all hinges on the Pastor in charge and whatever the Main church body states how it should be taught based on that paticular church's doctrine/dogma.

    We just do not have to show the world with a mark on our foreheads that this is who we are.
    There will be a day when a mark on the forhead will be known to Christians and no other.

    So now funny a funny Protestant Lent/Palm Sunday story:
    in a Protestant church we do not burn the palm fronds from the year before to mark forheads. However in one church a young pastor decided he would do this for his congregation so they would get to experience what was once done and the 'norm' for everyone. So one year passes, he saves up the fronds and brings in a metal pan/bbq to burn them in-he puts the fronds in the pan and like any good man put lighter fluid on them to help them burn. instead the fire went out of control and burned the doors to the Sanctuary. He of course never did try and bring in a Catholic tradition again.

    April 4, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  16. Doc Vestibule

    Ritual cannibalism is not exclusively a Catholic pratice.
    The Aztecs believed in transubstantiation as well. They consumed their human sacrifices in the belief that the dead literally became a part of the God to whom they were given.
    Binerwurs in India ate the sick amongst them to please Kali.
    The Karankawa, an indiginous Texan tribe, ritualistically consumed their enemies to gain their strength.

    Our culture has a very strong cannibalism taboo, but it cannot be "human nature" to feel repulsed by it as virtually every branch of the human species has praticed it at some point in their development.
    The Wari, The Kuru, Fore, Caribs, Fijians, Popayans, Serengipeans, are all fairly modern examples (within the last 500 years).
    Indeed, Christians from the 1st Crusade consumed the fallen Arabs at Maarat.
    Just be thankful that the modern form is limited to wafers and wine!

    April 4, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  17. Tim

    The 40-day fast of Lent is said to commemorate the 40-day fast of Christ. Yet, Jesus never commanded his disciples to commemorate his fast, nor is there any evidence that they did so. The first reliable mention of the 40-day fast before Easter is thought to be in letters of Athanasius, dated 330 C.E.

    Since Jesus fasted following his baptism and not before his death, the fact that some religions observe Lent in the weeks preceding Easter may seem strange. However, a 40-day fast in the early part of the year was common among ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks. The “Christian” custom was evidently borrowed from them.

    April 4, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • adavis

      Tim, I think the point being made here is that we need to make ancient traditions have modern-day spiritual benefits. Rethinking traditions helps us rethink our faith and what those traditions mean. So it's not necessarily as relevant when the technical, original dates of Lent were; that's just getting lost in technicalities and losing any spiritual meaningfulness. What is relevant is how we can reappropriate meaningless traditions to use them for our spiritual growth.

      April 4, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Portlander

      I learned early on that many Christian holidays and traditions have roots and connections with ancient "pagan" feasts and traditions. It has always seemed to be a melding of cultures that speaks to our shared humanity across time, culture, ethnicity, and geographical differences. I think it's beautiful that Easter is celebrated in conjunction, more or less, with the turning of the seasons and the re-birth of Spring. Or that Christmas is essentially a festival of light in the midst of winter. The combination of natural, human, and religious cycles makes each celebration or spiritual practice that much more meaningful and powerful.

      April 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Portlander- Easter does not follow spring, it follows Passover. There is a difference.

      April 4, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • jimtanker

      All of the christian holidays were made to suppress the traditional holidays of other cultures. Most, if not all, are the same as the holidays that they were repressing. I’m sure that most christians will doubt this but they are so deluded that they will believe, literally, anything.

      April 5, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • Amber

      No, Jesus does not tell his disciples to practice Lent, but he does give them guidelines for fasting in Matthew 6. All throughout the New Testament fasting is practiced. Jesus makes the point that fasting is not to be done in order to let others know you're doing it; it's for the Lord alone. So, no, the Bible itself does not introduce the Lenten fast as we know it today, but it does provide guidelines in which fasting is valuable and appropriate.

      Also, jimtanker, have you considered that Christian holidays may have been celebrated in conjunction with pagan ones for the safety of Christians? In times of persecution, it would have been safer for Christians to have their festal day coincide with the celebrations of the culture at large. There may be some who truly believe Jesus was born on December 25, but I'd bet most Christians recognize that the dates chosen for holidays are based on tradition.

      April 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • gerald

      Neither does he tell us to do wedding cerimonies or wear wedding rings or have religous instruction on wednesday nights. You protestants cry legalism and yet you get legalistic about what the Bible tells us we should and shouldn't do. The Bible says "Obey and submit to your leaders who have concern for your souls" Heb 13:17. Submission is not a part of being "protest-ant" it would seem. Fasting and other forms of self control are good in order to gain control of our passions. That is why the Church has lent.

      April 5, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • derp

      "40-day fast"

      If it takes 40 days, how fast can it be?

      April 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  18. 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 8:10 am |
    • Nick

      Where did you get the bible from? Jesus did not give us the bible, the church did. The bible itself is a tradition established by MEN.

      The bible doesn't say that it is the pillar of truth. The bible does say that the church is. Biblical teaching cannot be an end in itself because it doesn't teach it.

      And stop with the gold in the Vatican. There are more than enough multi million dollar mega churches in America not to mention the millions Christian authors make in book sales.

      April 4, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • JDawg

      Only Protestants think the Pope is God on Earth. If you want to follow him that much I will give you his twitter name! All Protestant sects do are tear down other belief systems and ideas. History has shown it over and over. Ask Anne Hutchinson how accepting Protestants are. Why in the world would Jesus sanction the creation of all these different sects that say opposite things about him? The Catholic Church is derived from Jesus, Lutheranism is derived from Martin Luther, Calvinism from John Calvin, and Anglicanism from King Henry VIII HUGE DIFFERENCE THERE! Luther, Calvin, and King Henry VIII are crybabies who didnt like things their way so they changed it to make themselves more important. The Anglican Church is founded upon the want for divorce! There is only one holy, Catholic and apostolic Church and it is led by the bishop of Rome. Protestants claim to follow the Bible so I will leave you with this: "And he replied 'You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." -Matthew 16:18-9

      April 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  19. Frederica

    HeavenSent, victory is yours.

    April 4, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • PeterVN

      No. HeavenSent (Heaven's Loose Outer Sphincter) can't even be victorious over her an-us. It keeps letting bullsh-it out here in all her posts.

      April 4, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Peter, your the coward hiding behind multiple handles, including my own.

      UY

      April 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  20. gary

    stupid people with dirt on their faces mumbling to some mythical ghost in the sky.... still living in the dark ages

    April 3, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Well gary, I know you didn't read or hear the following scriptures in Church yesterday:

      1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

      Amen.

      April 4, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • doctore0

      Crazy humans cant face their own death.. create silly stories, pretend they are real; Look like idiots.

      April 4, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • BrattySoul

      Ya know, just live and let live-stop everyone pushing on everyone else. you dont like what he does he doesnt like how she thinks...my God I cannot stand it anymore.
      It isn't faith/religion or lack of faith/religion that's causing problems in the world-its just PEOPLE causing problems in the world!!!
      Reacting to anyone's criticsm just makes for a reaction and perpetuates hate!!
      It is pitiful to me being a Christian to see my fellow Christians react to anyone they feel 'threatens' their way of life.
      The blame mfor it all is humanity plain and simple.
      Because humans like to cause strife and pain towards other people.

      April 4, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Lycidas

      @doctore0 & Gary- Do you realize how ignorant you two sound from your comments? It's obvious you are jerks or lacking in Biblical knowledge.

      April 4, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
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