Growing up Southern Baptist, I was not exposed to Lent. I heard people talk about giving things up for Lent, but it was usually a joke, promising to give up things they had no intention of doing anyway.

It was not until seminary that I attended a church that took Lent seriously. And it was a Baptist church! Lent was not approached as simply a time to give something up. People were encouraged to add something to their daily experience, something that involved expressing gratitude.

Since then I have done variations of giving things up and adding things to my daily experience. Some years I am more disciplined than others, but my diligence with the specific activity I give up or adopt is not what is important. That is like mistaking the map for the journey.

disciplineWhat’s important is what happens when I engage in the discipline. Lent is about paying attention, and spiritual disciplines give me tools for paying attention, for bringing my mind, body, and spirit into the same place. This is the opposite of the distracted life I usually live.

The discipline, whether it is daily mediation, giving up meat, writing a thank-you note each day, taking a daily walk, whatever it is, prompts me to do consciously what I might otherwise do mindlessly. The goal is not to accomplish the task. The goal is to create a space in my daily life for being present, for paying attention, for being mindful of that moment.

Richard Rohr says it this way: All spiritual disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be present. These disciplines exist so that we can see what is, see who we are, and see what is happening.