Lent is a season for slowing down and focusing on what matters most.  For many people this entails “giving up” something.  This act of fasting can be a way to practice discipline, to free up space in our lives, or simply to stop doing something that we know is not good for us.  The practice of giving up something for Lent might get the most attention, but for many people, Lent can also be a time for “taking up” something such as a new spiritual practice. 

We’re already a week into Lent, but in case anyone out there was still looking for something to take up (It’s never too late!), I thought I would share with you a practice that I started a little over a year ago that has become extremely meaningful to me.  I developed this practice because I’ve always wanted to be a regular journal writer but find the blank page to be too intimidating.  My personality needs more structure.  Instead of forcing myself to face a blank page with endless possibilities, I developed a rubric for a list to guide my journaling.  Rather than full sentences, the list format feels more accessible and keeps it from feeling overwhelmingly nebulous.  

Here is the rubric I use along with some explanation/commentary:

  • 5 things I am thankful for: We can all use more gratitude in our lives.  Starting the list here helps ground me in appreciation for the many blessings that surround me, both big and small.  I try to force myself not to reuse things too often, but these days it’s hard not to be grateful for sunshine. 
  • 4 things I am anticipating in the day ahead:  This turn toward envisioning my day helps me think through where my attention is being drawn and what kind of energy the day will ask of me.  There are certainly more than 4 things that happen each day, but this forces me to be honest about what things are carrying the most weight.  I intentionally chose the word “anticipating” to encompass both the things I am looking forward to with excitement and those I might be dreading.
  • 3 things I am feeling: At the center of the list is an invitation to be honest about where my “heart” is.  As I think about the day ahead, what feelings pop up?  What feelings are lingering from the day before that I might still be carrying?  Sometimes this is the hardest part of the list because it not only asks me to be honest with myself but invites me to think beyond surface-level feelings. 
  • 2 things I intend to do in the day ahead:  After grounding in gratitude, assessing the things I’m anticipating, and being honest about how I am feeling, I can then turn toward setting intentions or goals for my day.  I try to keep these simple and manageable rather than big, lofty things that will probably just make me feel bad at the end of the day.  Sometimes small intentions like making sure I’m staying hydrated are exactly what I need to help me be ready to face bigger challenges. 
  • 1 word/phrase to carry with me throughout the day: By this time in the list, there is often a theme that emerges or an obvious focus to my day.  I try to choose a word or phrase that reflects what will be most helpful in bringing about the outcomes I desire.  Do I need to channel “confidence” or are the situations I am facing calling for “compassion”?  Will a reminder to seek “balance” allow me to be my highest self or do I need to remember to follow my “passion” even if it means taking a risk. 
  • [0 things, silence]: While technically not part of the list, I try to spend at least a few minutes in silence after I’ve completed the day’s list, a time of simply being rather than doing.  This can be a chance to solidify my word/phrase by meditating on it.  It can also be a chance to listen for God speaking into the day ahead. 

I am the first to admit that I regularly skip this practice, especially on days when my normal routine is thrown off.  But over time, I’ve come to realize how meaningful it has become as a way of slowing down, grounding me in gratitude, and helping me focus on what’s truly important.  I hope you might also find it helpful, but feel free to adapt it in any way that works best for you.  Or I’d love to hear what practices are meaningful to you this Lent and beyond.