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. Danabol 10 mg

    Grandes cosas de la # # nombre de host, el hombre. He leído tus cosas antes y usted es demasiado impresionante. Me encanta lo que usted ha llegado hasta aquí, el amor lo que estás diciendo y cómo lo dice. Usted lo hace entretenido y que todavía se las arreglan para mantener la elegancia. No puedo esperar a leer más de usted. Esto es realmente un gran blog.

    November 30, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  2. Susan joe

    I am Susan,from what I can read. It has been sad news and scam to everyone about Voodoo casters or so. But to me they are so real cause one worked for me not quite two weeks. I traveled down to where his shrine his and we both did the ritual and sacrifice. and now me and my ex are living very ok now.I don't know about you but Voodoo is real;love marriage,finance, job promotion ,lottery Voodoo,poker voodoo,golf Voodoo,Law & Court case Spells,money voodoo,weigh loss voodoo,diabetic voodoo,hypertensive voodoo,high cholesterol voodoo,Trouble in marriage,Barrenness(need a child),Luck, Money Spells,it's all he does. I used my money to purchase everything he used he never collected a dime from. He told me I can repay him anytime with anything from my heart. Now I don't know how to do that. If you can help or you need his help write him on (nativedoctor101@live.com) Thank you.

    June 17, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  3. Rowan


    April 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  4. My™

    Oh my.

    April 27, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  5. Marge

    well at least this got us all talking. Jesus gave very few direct commandments. "Love one Another" and at the Last Supper "Do this in memory of Me." If we all did these two requests the world would be a better place. Happy Easter

    April 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  6. Tina

    When the ashes are put on the forehead on Ash Wednesday the priest says, "Remember man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return." Our physical bodies and our souls are joined here on earth. When we die our bodies remain and turn back to dust, but our soul lives on. The stations of the cross that are in all Catholic churches are there as reminders of the path that Jesus took in human suffering. Easter is a celebration of the soul going on after death in joy and being loved by God. Alleluiah!

    April 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  7. Dm

    Obama is too busy making believe he is a christian while endorsing election frauds by the UN and Hillary ex…. the Ivory Coast in favor of Allasane Ouattara. Since then only 2-3 weeks ago, that candidate (Allssane Ouattara – another M . U. S. L. I. M, not wrong with them, except for this one) has been on a killing spree to eradicate all Christians in that country. The Ivory Coast is the largest Christian nation in Africa (At least it use to be)
    The massacre perpetrated by Allassane Ouattara (http://ivorycoastgenocide.yolasite.com/) Images are graphic. The puppet that Obama try to legitimize through a congratulation speech. ((www.youtube.com/user/whitehouse#p/search/0/GHRA4jqeCaQ)

    April 24, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  8. Beni

    The Church of England followers celebrate Ash Wednesday and practice Lent. The Anglican Church are officially Protestant but have Catholic traditions.

    April 24, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  9. Trey

    Lent is not just a Catholic thing. As a Greek Orthodox we celebrate Lent, as well.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  10. Mell

    Jesus is a Greek name, Christ is the Greek/Latin name for something.
    Where in Greece or Roam was Jesus Born? I can't seem to find that anywhere.????

    Secular Christianity is a term – Have you ever hear of it? what does it mean?


    April 23, 2011 at 5:31 am |
    • Matt B.

      Jesus is Spanish, fool!

      April 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  11. lance

    lol @ lent only being Catholic... Lutheran, Anglican and Reformed churches do lent and Ash Wednesday as well. Nothing odd about it in the protestant world.

    Though, I find it to be 'cute' when evangelicals find the rich tradition they often bash.

    April 22, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Trey

      Exactly. The Orthodox faith celebrates Lent.

      April 23, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Susan Connecticut

      Being a Lutheran (we're Protestant, you know), I thought it was also "cute" that the writer didn't know we "other Protestants" observe Lent. But I have had some fundamentalists/conservatives/evangelicals tell me that I wasn't Christian..........I find that a lot of people in this country don't really know about their own religions/denominations-just what they've been told by their pastors or preachers. Sad. I grew up in a time when in church and even in public school we studied other faiths – the more you know about your neighbor, the easier it is t get along.

      April 24, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  12. Joe Redbear

    BULL....When the bread is Broken? it is said take this for this is my body. The wine? Take this for this is my Blood...Do this in rememberence of me. Im Native American....and know of this. Funny ennit? Why must all of you fued over who is right and who is wrong? This person you call Jesus? He was but a man....and you make him out to be all that? He had no powers....that was All the creator...not him! He was Just a tool. THe creator worked through him...not the other way around. Just like a mechanic...can't fix your car without the proper tool...same thing with your christ. Creator used him like a tool, to fix thing's. But just like any mechenaic...cant fix everything...things are still messed up. I do think that he was Holy....Like maybe a shamen, or in my culture...a Holy Man. And he did try and help people....had a gift. But with thease gifts...comes hardship...pain...and suffering. And Look where it got him. Be careful what you ask for..you just might get it....with a price.

    April 20, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  13. Joe Redbear

    It's all a buch of bologna. Mankind has made up all thease different religions. mine is right...your's is wrong.... one makes you beg like a dog for a cookieon you knees, then tease you with a sip of wine....what's up with that.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Matt B.

      Yeah, all you religious freaks BUTT OUT !

      April 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  14. THE diciple whom Jesus loves...

    “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

    April 18, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  15. Dorothy

    Fisrt, you must understand, is when studying the Bible, you learn to know that some things are literal, symbolic, metaphoric and prophetic. Also, study the origins of the Catholic Church, it is a combination of Christianity and paganism. Many things have been added by popes and clergy of the Catholic Church that have nothing to do with Jesus, let alone the Bible.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • gwen

      Its a shame that you think that way, ignorance often leads us down the wrong direction, away from the truth. Man is flawed the true church is holy.

      April 25, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  16. Paul

    I am very proud of you Mark Batterson. Great article.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  17. The Truth

    You don't understand because you are an ape. Jesus died for people not for apes. Accept Jesus as your lord and savior or else you will live in hell for eternity after you die. Wake up!!

    April 15, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Matt B.

      Give it a rest! We need fewer religious zealots telling others how to live. Are you a Taliban?

      April 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  18. Dood

    It's so funny to see people say the Eucharist is "creepy" and "weird." Yet none of you ask "why?"

    When a person consumes normal food, that food is broken down and used to give life to the recipient. The beautiful and complex symbolism of the true Body and Blood of Christ gives life and nourishes the soul and spirit. It's living poetry, IMO. Likewise, as Christ's body was broken by His Passion, the Eucharist is broken down by our bodies yet strengthens the spirit and soul. Life is meaningless without faith. It makes no sense to me. I know there is something or someone greater than me out there, and oddly enough, it was hard science that strengthened my faith.

    April 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • gwen

      That was a beautiful response!!!

      April 25, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  19. tsar140

    I find it interesting that the article is about lenten practices and the comments are basicaly a debate over transubstantiation, which in and of itself has little to do with Lent.

    April 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  20. SSPA

    Correction" He came to bring a sword not peace" meaning He came to testify the truth that is not easy to accept unless you were searching in this life truth, justice,love , fairness and God ( Elohim) him self.

    April 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Jovida

      Wow, it's amazing how many theoretical and textual interpretations of the sword and not peace. It is peace, and it is reflection and lent serves as that a reflection of who we were, who we are and unfortunately people will feel no responsibility in helping you. It's about realizing that we have come a long way. Long ago people were spectators and choose not to help, not us, but long ago because I hope in todays time people are better than those that did not know or understand that they are part of the world and she all share it. You can independently help if you choose to help others around you and travel the world in search for peace. We have many people like that today, and I believe they were inspired by Jesus. I for one am grateful and a Catholic and that is what I get from what I see and read. After all thru time people have interpreted writings in suitable manner for the changing times. I decided to interpret in a peaceful and learning manner, and no father please no more swords. I hope the goal of the sword was because Jesus did not feel like judging anyone and he was so humble to say even in death- "Forgive them father for they do not not what they do" Today we do, we remember and try to do better to those that we come across and to those that need our help. The main lesson is to not just watch but to act and help because we are no better by being spectators and in doing so we watch the torture that individuals suffer by carrying their crosses. They need help and we all do sometimes. Start with those closest to you and then move forward. Yes, I got that from it and I like lent, I gave up coffee, last year I gave up smoking cold turkey and I have been a year smoke free. I like coffee but it was nice to get a break although the headaches were unbearable!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
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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.