Dear friend: An invitation to consider a Lenten practice 🌿
A few gentle recommendations for you: to read, to listen & to practice.
With Ash Wednesday a week away, I wanted to offer an invitation, along with some words I’ve shared before.
I’ve written before about how I didn’t grow up with any Lenten practices, and there was a time that all I knew about it was that you gave up something. It almost felt like a secret club where you went without, as a badge of honor. I saw people giving up social media or coffee or sugar, and didn’t think it was anything terribly important. I put it in the camp of a showy way to practice a little self-discipline.
It has been a quiet discovery in my adult life to create space for Lent, seeing it as so much more than just abstaining from something for 40 days. I now see it as a way to connect with the Lord. It feels like this beautiful invitation to less, so that my eyes are open to more.
I’ve grown to believe that Lent isn’t meant to be another project or one more thing to add to a to-do list. In fact, there have been times where I was eager to have a sense of control in a season of loss, and I was hungry for giving up something. In that time, the Lord invited me instead to experience his rest and his abundance. I’ll admit it was hard to receive. In case you’re in a similar place, I wanted to share just a little of what that felt like, with this excerpt from the essay where I shared the whole story:
I recognized my own discomfort with the idea of not doing something. I want to give up something for the Lord. I want to feel spiritual. I want the familiar of giving up and sacrifice. I want the familiar of hard things. I want him to take something from me, to keep me in check. I pressed into this discomfort, this familiar pressure I put on myself to measure up and cover ground.
Beloved, I just want to be with you. I want you to rest and enjoy good things for Lent. I don’t want you to give up anything else. You have forgotten that I put good things in, not just take them away. Let me love you abundantly. Rest and abundance are what I have for you.
Dear friend, I don’t believe the Lord pressures and shames us. I feel sensitive to the fact that this may have been a year of loss or suffering for you.
May Lent beginning next week be your gentle invitation to listen with the Lord about what is true for you in this season, and what your heart may need. Perhaps it is a practice of giving up something, but perhaps it is a practice of receiving. Even as I write this, I’m praying for you on the other side of this letter. I’m praying for the courage to be honest about how you’re doing, and the courage to ask the Lord for an invitation here.
May you experience more of the Lord's kindness and love for you, as you ask him what you need here.
As Lent begins next Wednesday, I feel hopeful for the days ahead of spending more intentional time with Jesus. I’m feeling heavy and weary, and I’m grateful for the invitation for unhurried space to listen and be with the Lord. In case you’re looking for a practice or book to journey with you, I wanted to share a few recommendations. There are so many ways to be intentional with the Lord, and here are just a few.
Alicia Britt Chole is one of my favorite teachers. Her book, 40 Days Of Decrease has helped me discover Jesus in new, deeply meaningful ways every time I’ve read it. She invites the reader into different kinds of fast for each day of Lent, fasting things like “Premature Resolution,” “Avoidance,” “Comparison” and “Criticism.” Her insights about the life of Jesus and what that means for me have been transformational. I experienced Jesus’ presence more because of the gentle and truthful invitations offered in these pages. This is a book I’ve returned to time and time again. Alicia Britt Chole is also offering daily readings and questions on Facebook and Instagram to go along with this book this year, if you’d like company for reading.
Instead of giving up a substance or a practice, Asheritah Ciuciu invites you to consider sacrificial love as you enter into Lent. With daily reflections on the specific ways Jesus loves us, I was challenged to consider who I am invited to love and the costly way I am loved. I really love the inclusion of suggested family activities each week, a simple weekly liturgy, plus more Scripture each day if you want to go deeper on your own. This one feels very accessible for a family or group to do together, as well for individual reading.
Remember Me is fiction that offers an invitation to wrestle and grieve, through the lens of Jesus’ suffering. I honestly haven’t encountered books quite like what Sharon Garlough Brown has written. Instead of preachy narrative, I have found myself utterly undone by the truth and honesty in her characters that were so easy to relate to. I find myself using her books as my own guide to reflect and be with the Lord, and this one was no exception. I also highly recommend her Sensible Shoes series, with the fourth book, An Extra Mile taking place during Lent/Easter. If entering into a story sounds more accessible than reading a devotional, this one might be a good fit for you.
PS. I wanted to mention that while you can read Remember Me as a stand alone, it does follow the book, Shades of Light.
The Passion of the King of Glory
I absolutely loved Russ Ramsey’s books in this series, as they all feel like the Jesus Storybook Bible for grownups in the very best of ways. This one is all about the life of Jesus told in an imaginative story format. It isn’t a devotional in a traditional way, but there are 40 chapters that could be read daily leading up to Lent. As someone who grew up in the church, I sometimes need help with seeing past the familiarity of Scripture. I’m so grateful for this humble, rich storytelling that makes Jesus feel closer.
In the introduction, he states, “my hope is that this journey through the pages of Scripture will capture your imagination in ways that will serve your life long study of the Bible.” For me, that has been true. I’m grateful.
I’m always grateful for the gift of someone coming alongside me, and that’s exactly what Rev. Summer Gross’ Lectio Divina offerings feel like to me. When my thoughts are loud or I can’t seem to find space, beginning a video or a podcast episode where she reads Scripture slowly is a tremendous gift. You can find all her recent Lectio divina offerings on The Slow Word Movement podcast, walking through the book of John. If you join her on Patreon, you can access all the videos she made for Holy Week two years ago, but here are her videos for Good Friday and Easter that are free. I’m also so grateful for the space she creates twice a month in her spiritual direction group, Table of the Beloved. While this isn’t just for this season of Lent, I’m grateful for the gift of gentle contemplation with others who want the same.
I wonder if you’d like to just spend time in the gospels this Lent, having space with the stories of Jesus’ life. Annie F. Downs’ podcast, “Let’s Read the Gospels” offers space to just listen to a few chapters from Matthew, Mark, Luke & John each day of the month. You’d be able to make it through all four books, and then some if you listened for each day of Lent.
I wonder if you may need to fast disconnection from your body this Lent, and create space for a daily practice like yoga. I’ve been so grateful for the space to listen to my body, and choose a practice that fits with what my body needs that day, whether it be paying attention to a certain part of my body or slowing down to accommodate sickness.
I wonder if the invitation you hear is to play, and to fast productivity for a few minutes each day. Some of my favorite ways to play include making art, (whether that be watercolors or collage or doodling or decorating a page of my journal with stickers), playing with slime or playdough, blowing bubbles, swinging at a playground, living room dancing, making a new recipe or reading a children’s book or novel.
My friends, Sue Fulmore and Katie Kibbe host a gentle space for writers, The Writer’s Refuge. Last year they offered an invitation to see writing as a prayerful activity during Lent. I’ve deeply appreciated the space they’ve created to enter into writing gently and reverently, and am hoping to join in some of the virtual writing rooms and connection in the weeks ahead. You can find out more about how to join for free here or can sign up directly here.
Dear friend, however you choose to engage with the Lord these days leading up to Easter, I pray that you feel his kindness and gentleness towards you. I pray you feel his face turned towards you, the invitation to experience his heart of love.
I’ll end with these words from Bette Dickinson as a benediction:
Attentive presence is more important than completing the content. Allow the Holy Spirit to bring you to a place of rest, refreshment, and transformation in his way and at his pace.
As always, dear friend, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to just hit "reply" to this email. Whether you want to share a prayer request, your own intention for Lent this year or if my words brought up anything for you, I’d be so glad to know.
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I grew up Catholic and we practiced Lent in a very typical way of giving up chocolate or something. Several years ago, wanting to approach Easter with more awareness, I started seeing what I could do on my own to observe Lent. (I'm no longer Catholic, have attended a variety of churches, at present a Presbyterian one) I have used a few Lenten devotionals and it really helps me to slow down and dwell on Jesus' ministry, His walk here on Earth, the meaning of following Him. It has helped Easter be a renewed, more meaningful event to practice and remember. 40 Days of Decrease sounds very interesting and I think I will try that this year. I love the idea of decreasing in order to increase my awareness of Him.
It sounds like we have similar experiences of not observing Lent for many years. I am thankful we can grow into this and explore with freedom rather than adding a burden of another "have to". This year I will attend my first Ash Wednesday service and I am really looking forward to it. Thank you so much for recommending The Writer's Refuge, that is very kind and generous. We have been missing you in that space.