By Tom McGrath
Lent is an annual opportunity to check up on the state of your spiritual health. The three traditional pathways of Lent take you through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
In prayer, we strengthen our relationship with God. Fasting asks us to let go of habits that get in the way of our ability to love God, ourselves, and others. Through almsgiving, we come to see others as God sees them—as worthy of our love and support.
Here, for the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to the beginning of Holy Week, are 40 “good works” to help enrich your spiritual life and enliven your Lent. Make use of the list as you see fit, realizing that if you miss a few along the way, that’s alright—your intent to make this Lent more meaningful is what counts.
1. Change the channel. Ash Wednesday signals a major change in how you’ll live the next 40 days. Honor that change by skipping TV all day.
2. Feed your soul. Many people today are overworked and under-nurtured. Schedule weekly dates to do something fulfilling alone—browse an antique shop, listen to a favorite recording, visit an art museum. Seek out something beautiful today.
3. Eat light. Cut back on the size of your meals today (and each Friday of Lent). Recognize your hunger as an expression of God-hunger. Give the money you save on food to charities that feed hungry people.
4. Be a “Simon” to others. The Gospels tells us that Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the cross. Today, offer to help a neighbor, family member, or a co-worker with a tough chore. The help can be physical, emotional, or spiritual.
5. Worship with friends or family. Be attentive to the prayers, rituals, readings, and songs. Discuss what you experienced after the service.
6. Avoid gossip. Avoid situations that tempt you to talk negatively about others. When you do talk about someone else, say something nice.
7. Send a message. Write a letter to someone from whom you are estranged, seeking to re-establish the friendship. If you need to, apologize. If appropriate, offer forgiveness.
8. Give it up. Pick one habit that drags you down or keeps you from living fully. Just for today, let go of it. Fill that emptiness with something positive.
9. Share a meal. Make a meal and bring it to a shut-in neighbor or friend. Or invite someone to a meal at your home.
10. Rise and pray. Get up a half-hour early today and spend the time in prayer. You can meditate, write in a journal, offer a traditional prayer (like the Rosary), or read your Bible.
11. Be complimentary. Compliment someone on a job well done. Look around your life for an unsung hero and thank that person for his or her diligence, competence, and dedication.
12. Clear away clutter. Sometimes outward messiness in our lives reflects an inner clutter. Clean up a junk drawer, a messy closet, or counter. Then appreciate a job well done.
13. Drop your worries. Think of the day ahead. Whenever a worry comes to mind, imagine placing it in God’s hands. Proceed through your day with a lightened heart.
14. Give the shirt off your back. Look in your closet for good clothes you no longer wear. Donate them where they’ll be well used.
15. Keep it in mind. Memorize a short passage from Scripture and repeat it to yourself during the day. Use it as a grace at your meals.
16. Skip the sweets. Forgo sweets today, but pay attention to the taste of what you eat. Ask God to fill the hunger in your heart.
17. Tune into a Station. Pick one of the Stations of the Cross (Jesus Accepts His Cross, Jesus Falls, etc.), meditating on how it relates to your life. Remember Jesus’ love and courage.
18. Take a stand. Write a letter or send an email to a public official or a newspaper or magazine, stating your views on a moral issue that concerns you. Send out a call for change.
19. Stretch your mind. Read a book, watch a movie, or see a play. Try on a new perspective or point of view.
20. Say your bedtime prayers. If you’re able, get down on your knees before bedtime and say your prayers. Thank God for your blessings. Say bedtime prayers with any children in your home.
21. Recommit. Make a list of the roles you play in life (for example, spouse, supervisor, grandparent, church member) and list a personal goal for each role. Recommit and focus on those goals.
22. Be a secret Samaritan. Do a good deed today that no one will know about. Make someone’s life easier without them catching on.
23. Compose yourself. Write a psalm of praise. This is great to do as a family. Read samples from the Book of Psalms, then draft a version of your own, referring to the events in your lives.
24. Do a quick fix. Do that pesky home-repair job you’ve been putting off. You’ll feel better about yourself and you’ll have more energy for living.
25. Hit the trail. Take a long, leisurely stroll with no destination in mind. As you walk, pay attention to what God is saying to you—in your mind and heart, and through nature.
26. Travel lighter. Today, and for the rest of Lent, give away one possession every few days to someone who can use it more than you. Make more room in your life for God.
27. Have a good laugh. Watch a funny movie or call a friend who makes you laugh. Loosen any grip sadness might have on your heart.
28. Stick to it. If you’re tempted to abandon a project or slough off a duty, hang in there until it’s completed. Learn from the experience just how strong you can be.
29. Be green but growing. Pray for someone you envy today. Pray that God will continue to bless that person. Ask God to help you see your own blessings.
30. Take it nice and easy. Today, don’t rush anything. Take a slower pace in all that you do. Be aware of the many moments of your life, and live each one fully.
31. Repent. Examine your conscience and express your sorrow over wrongdoings. If your faith tradition celebrates God’s forgiveness in a ritual way, celebrate the sacrament.
32. Visit the sick. Join up with friends or family to visit someone you know in a hospital or nursing home. Don’t rush through the visit; stay as long as the patient is comfortable having you.
33. Study the Scriptures. Take the time to read an entire Gospel. Read with an open heart, ready to find meaning and direction.
34. Die in little ways. Throughout the day, sacrifice small pleasures to become aware of deeper needs and longings in yourself. Eat little, work longer, unplug, and pray.
35. Look for the good. Take time to see the good in your life: family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. Tell someone today one way he or she manifests the goodness of God.
36. Accept your Cross. Each of us has hardships to bear. Look within to find the strength to accept the cross in life that is uniquely yours. Pray for help.
37. Count on Resurrection. The Cross is not the end of the story. We believe that Jesus not only died, but rose again to show us the way to eternal life. Today, pray for hope.
38. Listen up. Listen to those you encounter today. Don’t rebut, don’t refute. Put aside what you’re planning to say and just listen. Notice how the tone of the conversation changes.
39. Thank God. Make a gratitude list, a quick list of 10 or more things for which you are grateful. Let your mind range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Give thanks.
40. Keep it going. Think back on the past 40 days and select one spiritual discipline you will continue. Write it down and tell one other person your resolution.