A Busy Person’s Guide to Lent

Lent is a wonderful time to slow down and take stock, a special time for fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. But adding just one – much less all three – additional activities into our busy, over-scheduled lives can feel like a huge challenge. Between my full-time job, my part-time job, helping my son with homework, and having dinner with my family, some days I’m hard-pressed to find even 15 minutes of unaccounted for time.

Still, though, I feel called to make the most of the Lenten season this year, and I know that giving up something, giving to something, and giving of myself in prayer are the best ways to do that. But how can I add any of that to my schedule when I rarely have time for lunch away from my desk? I’ve found that the key is giving up adding things in. Instead, the trick is to rethink the time I already have.

Maximize your morning

Think your morning shower is only good for getting you cleaned up for the day? Or that your first cup of coffee is merely an energy boost? Repurpose your regular routine in one of these creative ways:

  • Sometimes I’m barely conscious when I stumble into the shower in the mornings. That’s when I like to use traditional prayers I’ve known all my life. Beginning my morning with a couple Our Fathers and Hail Marys allows the words and their meaning to work on me without effort and sets the tone for the rest of my day.
  • Bring an intention to your morning while you’re getting ready for the day and offer it up in prayer. Saying something simple like, “May this day bring me closer to you,” or “May I serve you and others faithfully today” can transform morning grogginess into a more peaceful, positive embrace of the new day.
  • Is picking up coffee on the way to work part of your morning routine? Brew a pot at home, save the money, and make a donation to charity or put it in a CRS Rice Bowl instead.
  • If a doughnut usually accompanies your morning coffee, try skipping it for a while. Although you’re not fasting completely, you are making a choice to do without something, which is the whole point of fasting in the first place.

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Leverage the lines

Despite the advances in technology, we all still wait in lines – the carpool line, the check-out line, the drive-through line. Make it a goal to use the time you spend there in creative ways that support your spiritual journey:

  • Count your blessings. This never fails to improve my mood and reframe the way I think about the annoyance of being stuck in a line in the first place.
  • I also like to be honest with God and share my frustration. Sometimes, I’ll pray, “Ugh. I’m not in a good mood, Lord. Please teach me patience.” This has a way of moving me from my frustration to an acceptance of the present moment just as it is.

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Tackle technology

Many people believe that the internet and social media provide far more to distract us than center us. But using technology mindfully can be a nourishing Lenten practice:

  • When scrolling through social media, suspend your judgment of a comment or photo and instead pray for that person. A simple, “Grant her peace and joy,” is a great way to lift friends and acquaintances in prayer. And if the person is someone you have a hard time with, try praying, “Help me to be merciful as you are merciful.”
  • If you feel you should spend less time on social media but can’t seem to cut back, use it to support your Lenten “fast.” Set an alarm and allow yourself five minutes of mindless scrolling. Then when that time is up, use it for some creative “almsgiving.” You could clean out a closet and donate what you don’t need, call or write a note to someone who may be lonely, or email your legislators about a cause you believe in. You’ll find you won’t miss the time you gave up “liking” and “sharing.”
  • Consciously use your cell phone for prayer. Whether you’re looking for daily scripture readings, guided meditations, more traditional prayers, or contemplative music, there’s an app for that! You can also use the tools already on your phone. Try setting an alarm or calendar notification to remind you to stop what you’re doing and take time to pray. Or keep a list of prayer requests on your phone’s notepad.

Making Lent a meaningful time of spiritual renewal doesn’t have to be difficult. We just need some creative thinking, an open heart, and the faith that everything – even the mundane routines of daily life – “work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

Originally published February 26, 2018.

Mary Ann Steutermann is currently the director of campus ministry at Assumption High School, an all-girls Catholic high school in Louisville, Kentucky. A career educator, she has more than 20 years experience as an English teacher, assistant principal, and principal and does freelance writing on the side. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and two master's degrees in education. Mary Ann lives in Louisville with her husband and son.