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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. Nicole

    I have nothing but nice things to say about this article! Thank you Mark Batterson for your words and CNN for making it available. I absolutely love the simplicity of changing your pace or changing your place to rejuvenate your spirit and provide you with new perspective. I got a lot out of this, and I think I needed that this morning! Thank you again. 🙂

    April 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Sket

      You want some of that, eh? You want him to slip his man-meat in you. LOL

      April 3, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  2. John m browning

    To all the godless heathens, liberal maniacs etc., evolution cannot explain physics and scientific models that try to work around God are less believable than accepting an all powerful and wise, God. Hawking himself resorts to preposterous and wild speculation to account for the origin of the universe and to explain why physics work.

    We are wonderful machines and you soulless pagans fail to recognize your creator. Your day of reckoning awaits you.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Colin

      Not so. Evolution is the only explanation we have that expalins the gradual arising and diversification of life on Earth. Attributing life on Earth to a hokey sky-fairy is childish and ultimately self-defeating, because the next question is, well, where did god come from. Ony the scientifically illiterate believe in your "talking snake" theory.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Dave

      Don't call everyone who has a religion illiterate. It makes you look incredibly ignorant to your surroundings.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Colin

      Dave. I'm sorry man, but if you believe that the World egan 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake, you are an idiot. I'm afraid it is that simple. Why pull a punch with something so abundently childish and silly.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Kain

      I'm not sure how much confidence I can place in the "only explanation that 'expalins' the gradual arising and diversification of life on Earth." Those who are truly scientifically literate see all the holes in this "expalination." Let's pretend your idea of evolution doesn't involve a magical worldwide mutation in which a species completely transformed into another...and still continued to exist. Being as scientifically literate as you are, explain how that happened. And since you asked where God came from, maybe you can answer where the parent materials that make up the universe came from...moral of the story is this: don't be a jerk if you don't know what you're talking about.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Colin

      @Kain. There it is. your objection to evolution betrays a basic lack of understanding in how it works. Of course species that evolve into new species can continue to exist. All it takes is a discrete sub-population of that species to be isolated from the rest and subject to differing selection pressures. This happens all over the World and is going on as we speak.

      This is why I have no patience with you "talking snake" crowd. Yopuu can't even understand soemthinbg as simple as evolution, yet yo useek to misrepresent it in order to criticize it.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Kain

      I think between the two of us, you're lacking the basic understanding of the theory. while adaptation is a proven concept, and one not disputed in religious circles; the idea of a species adding an extra pair of chromosomes isn't only unproven, it's impossible. Of course i'm sure you have no idea what i'm talking about...

      you say evolution is a simple concept, yet you have no idea what goes on behind the term "evolution." you do realize that in order for a whole species to truly "evolve," the mutation would have to happen on a global level. you talk about a "discrete sub-population" and all this jargon, but have no clue what you're talking about.

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

      @Colin – I'm just going to repeat what I said before:
      "Me – PhD in EE – Catholic.
      My dad – one of the top professors in the world at his field (civil engineering) – Protestant.
      My cousin – extremely successful doctor who had 4.0 throughout college – also Catholic.
      James Chadwick who introduced the world to the neutron and, on a side note, is a part of my family history – also Catholic

      Religion doesn't judge how smart you are."

      P.S. Anyone who takes the bible literally word-for-word is an idiot. That is a very small minority though. There obviously was no talking snake and we could have definitely come from apes. Scientists have even accepted the idea of the bible explaining that Adam and Eve was the first "human couple". It's all how you perceive it. There is no concrete proof for God and there probably never will be.

      But telling other people that they are wrong when you don't even have concrete proof for your statements is stupid too. Before you start running your mouth take the scientific route and find proof before calling people "idiots".

      April 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      There are many possible scenarios that may explain who and what we are and how we may have gotten here. None of these hypotheses are provable, although following the scientific method at least provides some basis for trust. (As I said in another posting here: I can't even prove I got up this morning.)

      However, using ancient texts and myths to "explain" and controlling peoples actions and lives using these most-likely fictional texts ("God will punish you if...) is not only dishonest but destructive to any real progress. Over the years, the number of scientific discoveries that have been driven underground, so to speak, is simply innumerable, with the various religious organizations being at the forefront of censorship.

      April 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Dave

      Can you name a few? Because at the moment, the only one I can think of is stem cell research.

      April 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  3. Maeghan

    It's refreshing and uplifting to see this article featured. Spirituality is nothing fake and God is everything real. I'll pray for all the many of you that are so terribly lost and for those who are found to help you find God too.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Colin

      Thanks Meaghan. You pray for me and I'll think for both of us.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  4. db

    Jesus never gave up soda, television, chocolate, smoking, drinking or any other of the trite things that most people "give up" for a mere 40 days they celebrate lent. Rather he spent "40days/nights" fasting in extreme temptation and contemplation only to GIVE his life in sacrifice. If people really wanted to celebrate the actions of the Christ they should consider giving of themselves during lent for the betterment of others around them ie volunteer at local charities, soup kitchens etc. Giving of yourself wholeheartedly would represent the actions of Jesus far better than trying to give up something out of your life that you didnt really want there anyway.

    Just a thought.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  5. Colin

    I hope that one day we will mature as a society to the point where future generations will look back on us and wonder how we could believe such supersti-tious nonsense like gods, life after death, evil devils haunting us, prayers being answered and the other childish fantasies that make up the bulk of mainstream Christian beliefs.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Why pick on the Christians? The other well-propagated religions are exactly the same...

      As Einstein said, "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits."

      April 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  6. Dennis

    I get lots of lent in my dryer filter.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  7. Carol

    I'm happy for the writer that he is out of a spiritual slump and Lent helped him to do this. God speaks to all of us differently and we can all learn from each other. A very sensible and holy thing for everyone to give up this Easter season no matter what you believe in is Extremism. You can't eat it, can't pick it up and examine it, but it is bad and can kill as it did this week when a fringe Minister in Fla burned the Quran Bible. God would be so pleased if this one thing would be given up by everyone.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  8. Colin

    People praying look silly and supersti-tious to me. The idea is that you think certain thoughts, a being that created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies reads your mind and then uses its magic powers (or "sacred powers", to the extent you see a difference) to intervene in human affairs.

    Dark Ages nonsense.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      As Elbert Hubbard said: "Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped."

      April 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  9. Lita

    I praise our most generous and wonderful God for His Kindness, wisdom and grace in bringing His children together, and always closer to Him. Mark Batterson and CNN, thank you. I have been given a new insight into Lent through this ...

    April 3, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  10. Bill

    Sounds like this guy is on his way to becoming Catholic and doesn't even know it!
    Keep searching for the truth in the Light of Christ, and before you know it, you'll find yourself in the Universal Catholic Church

    April 3, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  11. anna

    Anybody else wishes this constant talk about religion would go away? Religion is the new s e x, years ago everything was about s e x, now everything is about religion. Enough already.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Kain

      why did you read the article?

      April 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Dave

      Why did you click on the article?....

      Does someone have a gun to your head?!... Do you want me to call the police??

      April 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Ruderalis

      You think religion is is the new S E X ? Thats the funniest thing Ive heard in a while! What are you going to do, have a quickie in the church? Religion is going quite the opposite direction. There is less faith now than ever because we live in a technology/information age. What planet are you from?

      April 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  12. Kathleen

    He's a Protestant and has never heard of Lent?! I'm a practicing Presbyterian and have participated in Lent since I can remember...
    I just find it strange that he had never heard of Lent until recently...

    April 3, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Fast Fred

      That's the problem. You were taught to believe as a child. You didn't have a choice.

      April 3, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Dave

      Nope there is a choice. It's just that if he's taught at a young age then he won't be ignorant about said religion and he can know if it's the right thing for him when he's older.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Kathleen

      @ Fast Fred

      Actually, I came to the church in high school. I have a Jewish mother and a Christian father and neither religion was forced on me. My parents told me I could choose either or none or something in between.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  13. michael smith

    The Catholic Church is totally messed up.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  14. Kate

    CNN STOP POSTING RELIGIOUS BLOG ENTRIES ON THE FRONT PAGE OF YOUR NEWS WEBSITE!!!

    April 3, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • marty

      KATE YOUR CAPS LOCK KEY IS STUCK AGAIN

      April 3, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Dave

      QUIT YELLING AT ME!!

      April 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • what the

      yea it is pretty insane how THIS is top news

      April 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  15. Luc

    This is just a sych trick "giving something up for Lent has made the Easter celebration far more meaningful and even helped me develop the spiritual discipline of fasting" well of course... it has nothing to do with God. As a non-believer one out-grows these sort of religious tricks. Fasting is good in of itself... no ghost is needed to make one feel better. Grow up people.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  16. CSG

    I’d just like to point out that the message of Lent is this: "Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." I don’t think you need to formally subscribe to any religion to realize that a dose of humility and self-reflection from time to time can be a good thing.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • HeavenSent

      CSG, look upward towards my previous post so that I don't have to retype it to you.

      Amen.

      April 4, 2011 at 3:45 am |
  17. Mark Strauss

    Instead of giving things up for Lent, I find it more spiritual to do something extra for Lent. Giving something up really only benefits myself. Doing something extra benefits myself and others. Just a thought ..

    April 3, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  18. Karen

    Just got out of Mass. Enjoyed your column. Lent always brings me closer to God. I would like to see the Southern Baptist Churches to teach Lent.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Fast Fred

      Who said you were separated from god. The Christian Political Party.

      April 3, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Chris

      Lent brings you closer to insanity....you people are holding us back as far as a species and I think you should do the rest of the human race a favor.....you over imposing religious nuts wonder why people dont like you.......

      April 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Fast Fred and Chris, it amazes me that your generation is end of days as written in the Bible. You need to stop being lazy, stop buying into propaganda, read the Bible to learn what Jesus wants for you and what He wants from you. Your soul depends on it. A good pastor that teaches the Bible, book by book, scripture by scripture then answers questions is Pastor Arnold Murray and his son Dennis Murray at Shepherd's Chapel. They are on M-F, around 4:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Or, you can check their website at shepherdschapel.com and listen to their teachings of Jesus' truth from your computer.

      Amen.

      April 4, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  19. Jeanine

    So what is Lent and why should I care? Shall we all join hands and sing? Sing while people are being murdered, robbed, enslaved, tortured, etc.?
    No thanks. I can't sing while vicious evil is being done all over the world. I'd rather fix the problems instead of acting like they don't exist.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Bill

      So Jeanine,
      While you're trashing Christians and their beliefs, what are you doing to help all these people being murdered, tortured and robbed? I bet you've done nothing! Disgusting!! Not even a donation I bet....

      April 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Claire

      Not every moment of every day is devoted to fighting evil, and not every activity done that is not toward that end purpose is a bad thing. Do you ever watch TV? Do you ever take a walk in the park to clear your mind? Do you spend time with friends and family? If you spent every waking moment of every waking day worrying about every problem in the world not only would you go insane, but you also wouldn't be able to devote enough time to any one problem to be able to change it. Some people use their faith to go out and do good things and that is something you should keep in mind.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • CSG

      Jeanine, the whole point of this time of deep self-reflection and penance is so we might come to the conclusion that, as individuals, we should cease our own actions that may be contributing to those vicious things going on in the world. In this way we are addressing the problems of the world. We seek to recognize how our individual actions are collectively affecting the world, for better or worse.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • stoptheliars

      Yes, and especiallu while the leaders of churches and the government are misappropreiating the money from its followers.

      April 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  20. wow grammar much

    So not top news worthy. Way to be objective CNN.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:32 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.