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. SSPA

    Mark God bless It is a well written article!

    April 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  2. SSPA

    Faith come by rigorous study of scriptures and praying to understand them.

    April 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  3. Fr.J+

    With all due respect to the author (and I am thrilled that he has begun to embrace the season of Lent), but the RCC is not the only Christian church that has embraced Lent. The Orthodox (since Lent was first practiced), the Lutherans, some Presbyterians, the Anglicans, many Methodists, and many other denominations have celebrated the penitential season for at least a few decades, with the more liturgical Protestant churches (Anglican and Lutheran) embracing Lent since they broke off of the RCC around 500 years ago.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  4. Dorothy

    Please study the origins of the catholic church, the popes who have added things that aren't in the Bible or the Torah. Lent is not in the Bible, the rosary, the sacraments, priest not being allowed to marry, nuns, etc..It is paganism with some Christianity added to make it look like alright. In fact there is not one single pope in the Bible or the Torah. "Study to show yourself approved unto God a workman need not be ashame, but rightly dividing the word of truth'. Just think the popes and clergy tried to change the word of God. My My!

    April 14, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  5. Quoc

    Every year, I give up LENT during Lent...that way I'm exempt and I don't have to give up the things that make me happy because life is too short 🙂

    April 13, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  6. Petrus

    Mr. Batterson is searching for the truth, and that is wonderful. Unfortunately, Mr. Batterson is deluding himself in thinking that "this church is totally orthodox in belief" (paragraph 4).

    orthodox Lutheran? orthodox Presbyterian? Certainly not orthodox Roman Catholic, and certainly not Orthodox!


    Only someone who was badly uninformed would say that his church is "orthodox" if "orthodox" means "like the historical, ancient churches".

    Mr. Batterson, please come and see the original, ancient Church. Visit an Orthodox church near you.

    April 13, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  7. Become rational

    How pitiful people debasing themselves for mythology

    April 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  8. amanofcharacter

    Will the Church give up molesting kids for one week? Or will they turn in molesters (instead of hiding and covering up for them) for a week?
    If this weren't publicized, I have no reason to believe the evil folks at The Church wouldn't still be enjoying molesting handicapped, deaf, or any other kids that they could get their disgusting hands on...

    April 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Quoc

      HAHAHAHHAHA LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!

      April 13, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  9. Paul

    Mark, you should come in Orthodox Christian Church (Greek Orthodox) to find more about Great Lent and 3 fasting periods more spread throughout the year. And that is just one early Christian practice you have discovered. If you keep digging more, you will discover whole new treasury hidden for you and many other Christians in America. Protestants know to make jokes about Orthodoxy but that is only because they have nothing else to say facing the truth. It they keep hanging on cripple teaching, low level spirituality (Christ called all of us in deep water where you can catch some big fish) sooner or later Christianity will be expelled from America. Read little bit about Divine energies from Gregory Palamas (14th century), read, John Chrysostom sermons (4th century), Maximus the Confessor 100 chapters about love (6th century), Homilies of Nikolai Velimirovich (20th century), and Fr. Seraphim Rose from California (20th century), you will soon find out how much you are missing and how much you need to grow.

    April 12, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • Petrus


      April 13, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  10. Brian

    So Jesus sacrifices his life for the author of this article, and the author's sacrifice one year is.......soda!? This is one of the many reasons Christianity seems so ridiculous to me.

    April 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Petrus

      Brian, it is ridiculous. But understand that there is a world of difference between the author's post-modern, 21st century brand of marketed Protastantism, and the true historical church, know today as the Eastern Orthodox Church.

      April 13, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  11. Iqbal khan

    A must read an eye opener....


    April 11, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  12. Upon this rock

    I'm sorry for mispalced words in my first post should have been " if i die an d He does exist I live forevermore!" Where is the
    "make changes" after our post is entered?

    April 10, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  13. Barbara in RI

    Instead of giving something up for Lent, why not take up something new? Makes a heck of a lot more sense to me. C'mon peeps, think for yourself, whydoncha? See where it takes you.

    April 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  14. r.fetting

    it's so funny.ALLreligions mean well but miss the point.they talk TO 'god',instead of realizing they ARE god.that's the whole point of being here,for 'god' to live thru your body,thru the bodies of all creatures alive.that's the 'spark of life' in you.and to those that believe in a devil,u are just idiots.everything u think is 'living' goes to the same'place'.everything is good.good and bad are human concepts,opinions.what u call 'god' made every atom,is in every atom,it all recycles back to same place.every atom and every idea is 'god'.

    April 9, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Sarah Curtiss

      I have a theory that there is no smallest piece of matter or energy, and no largest something...infinity in the very tiny, infinity in the very large. If this is true, then the grouping of smaller things, makes larger things. The group is Everything. Everything groups; Everything ungroups. If, in my thought experiment, I allow every single grouping to have sentience, not just the human configuration, then would all religions be as real as I am as long as people grouped together to believe in them? Infinity in the tiny; infinity in the large; everything connected and making new sentiences through new connections...now THAT'S a god!

      April 13, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  15. Isabella Penero

    When talking about religion or politics, you have your own values that you strongly believe in and are proud of, but there's no need to attack someone else's.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  16. beachcomber

    The article leaves the impression that Lent is observed soley by the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, Anglicans (Episcopalians in the USA) and Lutherans have always observed the liturgical year. As an Episcopalian, I am
    indeed a "Protestant", while closer liturgically to the Catholic Church than to any Evangelical Protestant Church.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • kggk

      The Episcopal Church actually identifies as "Protestant, yet Catholic" so you're sort of both... but at the same time you're kind of neither. If not for two fairly major political disruptions, we'd still be Roman Catholic. And those breaks, being Henry VIII and the American Revolution, really had nothing at all to do with the Protestant Reformation. So we get listed as Protestant at times, but it's really not a terribly accurate label.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Althouse

      I found this as well. I currently belong to a UMC congregation. (United Methodist Church) We observe Lent, and absolutely identify as protestant. ELCA and Missouri Synod Lutheran's also observe. While more liturgical than other denominations, they also are protestant.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Jed

      Most denominations of reformed catholics (the real definition of protestants) observe lent. To be a protestant, your tradition had to have "protested" against the Catholic Church of the 16th century. Many churches that consider themselves protestant, do not trace their heritage to the Catholilc Church, so what did they protest?

      As a Presbyterian, our heritage stems from the Catholic Church. The major reforms including the enculcation of representative democracy into our church governance, reflecting that God moves among people, not downward from a rigid hierarchy. We observe lent and Ash Wednesday, and a liturgical calander throughout the year.

      Wishing everybody a very happy Easter.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  17. Jesus of Nazareth

    Please stop using standard ashes, they are not Christian.

    I've decided on a new, more god loving type of substance you should rub on your forehead. And you nolonger need to wait for lent to repent. You can use this stuff any time you're feeling like a little guilt would do you some good. There is a modest fee, but only to separate the true believers from those who would pretend to truly love Jesus, I'm sure you understand.

    Just send $9.99 for a 24 hour supply and enjoy the closeness to god you've been longing for.

    April 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  18. JD

    I think you're all nuts for arguing over religion. Why does it bother the atheists so much if others believe in God? Why does it bother the Christians so much if others are atheists and chose to stay that way? Especially Christians should know better. The Bible says to not judge anyone. Let the atheists act like idiots if they want to. They are only acting that way so they can back up their theory of evolving from monkeys. When they rant and rave about Christians just consider the source and move on.

    April 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • KS

      We care for their soul and that they too will have everlasting life with the Lord Jesus and our Father.

      April 6, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      JD.. religions are not inert, and continue to try to exert their influence into the lives of all of us..either through legislation or influence. If they feel that a certain segment of society do not fit into their world view they get them ostracized..they attempt to remove human rights based on unproven biblical beliefs. They expect privilege and immunity..look at the appalling way the Catholic church has handled the se-x abuse it has and still ongoing. it .tried to hide the evidence and still feels it has morality. The human species is at risk with the god wars your side has invented. Evolution by the way tells us we are of the same family as the great apes. your monkey thing is due to your lack of a science education.

      April 7, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Caliban

      "Why does it bother the atheists so much if others believe in God?"
      My fear is here in the US our politicians, police and other rule makers may base their decisions guided by their faith. Knowing that a high ranking political official can make a decision based on teachings from a 2000 year old novel makes me wonder how wise they may really be.
      "In God We Trust." No, my grandfather told me trust is earned not given.

      April 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Rob

      "The Bible says to not judge anyone. Let the atheists act like idiots if they want to."

      I find it rather amusing that you say not judge, and in the very next sentence you generalize an entire group of millions of people as acting like idiots.

      I believe in the possibility of a God and I am thankful for all that I have and my chance to exist. At this time in my life, I can't accept any sect of Christianity or any other religion as true. If you do your research, you will see that the concept of Jesus, 12 apostles, the crucifixion, and the resurrection along with countless other similarities has been repeated in history predating the story of Jesus for thousands of years. The same story is evident in Celtic Pagan religions, Greek/Roman mythology, and even the sun god Ra. All these religions are based on the seasons and the equinoxes. In December, after the longest day of the year Jesus is born and the Sun comes again, and so on.

      Christianity to a scholar appears to be a copy of countless other religions that has been expertly spread through the ages through the conquering of nations, and the strict enforcing of laws among other things.

      April 9, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • LA310

      What you are really saying here, is if you don't believe specifically what I believe, than you're an idiot. Very Christian of you.

      April 10, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • oneworld

      You said "religions are not inert, and continue to try to exert their influence into the lives of all of us" I would ask you to consider that religions don't do that,people do. Most would consider me religious, and yet, from reading your concerns, I would say we would agree on most things outside of religion. I pray for a lot of people, but have never felt the urge or right to control them or condemn them. I've always known we are all one people on one planet and we all must care for each other if any is to survive. You don't have to go too far into Catholicism to know that all nature is a gift and to be taken care of. we are the stewards, not the masters. And this is not some new teaching. I'm in my 50's and learned it from my mother who learned it from hers. Most other religions I have read about also have deep in their history a great reverence for the animals, plants and whole earth that they say God gave them. Unfortunately, as you have seen, too many people wear a shroud of religion, without knowing their own history. It is hard to live a life of love, so honestly, most would prefer to check off rules, and point out when others break them. But at least as far as Christianity is concerned, that is not how it is supposed to be. Jesus himself criticized the priests of the time for laying on burdens too hard for the people to carry, that they themselves did not honor. Keep speaking against the injustices. Perhaps one day all will hear.

      April 10, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Ruth Babbah

      I'm with you. The Bible says to not judge anyone. They have their choices to make and they know what the consequences they have to face. This show us the lack of understanding of who God is. God gave His Laws, Statues and Commandment, so for those who believe, follow and trust in God there is nothing to worry and to argue about. The choice is yours. It's either you choose God or be deceived by Satan?

      April 10, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • WarhammerTwo

      Hey, we did not evolve from monkeys! And only boneheaded atheists would make that argument. In actuality, we are more closely related to modern apes than to monkeys. Monkeys have tails. Apes do not. However, we did NOT evolve from apes, either. We both(meaning Christians like myself, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics and anyone else I failed to mention as well as gorillas, gibbons, orangutans and chimpanzees) both evolved from a common ancestor that was neither ape nor human. The species then diverged into two separate lineages. One of these lineages ultimately evolved into gorillas and chimps, and the other evolved into early human ancestors called hominids. So, see, we didn't come from apes or monkey but evolved PARALLEL to them.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Ahanson

      @KS "We care for their soul and that they too will have everlasting life with the Lord Jesus and our Father." Why is it that you talk about caring for someone's soul as if it's a thing we have with us? I am not this body with a soul.. I am a soul with a body. wake up

      April 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Motley

      what is truly sad is the "holier than thou" arrogance some with religion have to belittle those who don't share the same beliefs,... as shown by JD and some of the responders,...

      At least try to understand the message in your religion and live it,... obviously you have missed that completely based on your comments

      April 12, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • jim

      JD Congratulations, yours is the stupidest post here, and that's saying a lot!

      April 15, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  19. Cherish my Catholic faith

    Mark, I enjoyed your article, "My Take: Snap out of spiritual slump with Lent" very much. Since you are not a Catholic who should know better, I will not take issue with some of its errors. Since I believe that there is not one superfluous word in Sacred Scripture, I especially like your pointing out that Jesus' own "change of pace" and "change of place" holds spiritual significance for us. Although there are still many very important doctrinal differences that divide Christians, we can still pray for one another and love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Thanks again, for a very good read.

    April 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  20. CatholicMom

    You are trying to be cute…
    Just as Jesus used unleavened bread and gr-ape wine at the Last Supper, so, too, this is the required matter to use at Mas-s.
    Jesus could easily have performed miracles without using matter but He always did use something as a way of inst!tuting the Sacraments.
    Remember the blind man who had faith in Jesus and believed Jesus could make the blind man see…Jesus could have just said..SEE…and it could have been done….but, no, Jesus made a mud paste and smeared it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash it off …so he did what Jesus said,
    And the man could now see.

    April 6, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Evolved DNA

      CatholicMom.. re the cute comment.. what are you referring to?

      April 6, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Know What


      "Jesus made a mud paste and smeared it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash it off …so he did what Jesus said,
      And the man could now see."

      I don't get it. So, after that, did people go around smearing mud on blind people's eyes to cure them? I can't imagine that procedure going on for very long. Which sacrament was that?

      April 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Toby

      The reason you don't get it is that life can be a muddy mess but when you wash your eyes "baptize" yourself you can see the truth. Christ's truth, but only if you are willing to repent, cleanse yourself can you truly see your souls potential.

      April 6, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Toby.. As religions all sprang from the superst-itions of early humans, I am not surprised that using mud, or other easily available fluids in dogmatic rituals still exist. Many ancient cultures coat them selves with mud, or vegetable dyes, blood etc to enhance their visibility. The traditions of the church today have their basis in pagan rituals..there is nothing divine about it.

      April 7, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Upon this rock

      To the skeptics of the belief in Jesus Christ (Jesus-ya-shu-a =His Name Christ = His position) Jesus The Christy .

      Let's say you keep on denying His existence and His invitation to Everlasting life. Now you die.
      I believe in His existence and took the offer of everlasting life if I did.Now I die.

      On the other side there will be one of two outcomes. You died H e doesn't exist. You will never know you were right.
      I die and He does not exist. I will never know I was wrong.

      But. what if He truly does exist? You are in a heap of trouble with no remedy.
      I was wrong and will never know it.
      Why would anyone take that chance? It's all by Faith not feelings or sight.

      April 10, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Christianity isn't religion it's a relationship

      Let me just point out to everyone who claims that faith is for those who are "weak" or uneducated that both the big-bang theory and the Creation event of the Bible cannot be replicated. In that sense, wether you belive in a Divine God who has implemented the awe-inspiring systems all around us, or believe that this particle bumped into that particle just right.... it takes a measure of FAITH. You are believing in something unseen.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • ScienceWorks

      @Christianity isn't religion it's a relationship- Actually, while the Big Bang itself can't be replicated, we can measure its continuing effects. Things like finding almost no difference between actual cosmic microwave background radiation spectrum measurements vs. theoretical (based on the big bang theory), and the existence of cosmological redshift are excellent corroborating evidence for the Big Bang Theory.

      I do not know of any Geologists or Archaeologists who believe that the earth was created in 7 days, is 6,000 years old, or any Paleontologists who believe that dinosaurs and man coexisted (sharks and other similar creatures that predated the dinosaurs and survived through their extinction are a different story.)

      I would agree that Christianity requires Faith, and that there's nothing wrong with that. But Science can actually be proven, so stating it requires faith is like saying Gravity requires you to believe F=ma to function.

      April 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • amanofcharacter

      Will the Church give up molesting kids for one week? Or will they turn in molesters (instead of hiding and covering up for them) for a week?
      If this weren't publicized, I have no reason to believe the evil folks at The Church wouldn't still be enjoying molesting handicapped, deaf, or any other kids that they could get their disgusting hands on... Sick and they should be thrown in prison, but The Church is too powerful (they like molesters!)

      April 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Ryan

      my only question is why does their calendar on this website have the first day of the week as monday where mine says sunday? why cause the sabbath of the Lord thy God is the seventh day aka saturday and lent is a pagan babylonian tradition kept alive by the catholic church and her harlots

      April 13, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • fivebynine

      Oh L-E-N-T...I was observing L-I-N-T

      April 15, 2011 at 3:04 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.