Five Things to Give Up and Five Things to Take on This Lent

Contributing Writer
Five Things to Give Up and Five Things to Take on This Lent

Perhaps you were raised in a faith tradition that celebrated Lent — a period of 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays) during which Christians remember the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or perhaps the term is new to you. Maybe you’ve seen people with ash smudges on their foreheads and wondered the significance, or you’ve heard of people “giving up” something seemingly fun for Lent, yet haven’t understood what they’re doing or why.

Lent is marked by Christians worldwide in a variety of ways. Roman Catholics celebrate it, as do certain larger Protestant sects such as Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans and Lutherans, with special church services, as well as traditions such as fasting, acts of repentance, and more. Most of these are more somber in nature, as we honor the sacrifice of Christ and consider what it means to us personally.

This year, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2023. It ends three days before Easter Sunday, on April 6, 2023.

While some faith traditions focus on “giving up” certain behaviors or foods in an act of sacrificial solidarity with Christ, who sacrificed his life on the cross for our eternal salvation, some focus just as much on “taking on” a certain practice or habit as they strive to model Jesus.

Here are a few ideas for what you can give up or take on as you prepare your hearts and minds for the season of Lent.

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Why Give Up Something for Lent?

Open praying hands

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, and many churches hold special services where people are urged to explore personal reflection and repentance, and then are marked with ash. The ash is a symbol of mortality, death, and repentance. Usually, the Ash Wednesday ashes are created by burning palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration.

Many people choose to give up something in honor of Jesus’s sacrifices. Not only did he sacrifice his own life for us, but he also fasted 40 days and nights in the wilderness, all while being tempted by the devil.

As a symbol of our own sacrifice and repentance, we might consider giving up something, whether that is something good for us, such as food, to test our self-discipline, or something bad for us, as an act of resetting the self and turning to new ways of living.

5 Things to Give up for Lent

1. “Bad” Food and Drink

One of the most popular things to give up for Lent are things we already know we shouldn’t be consuming regularly, such as chocolate, sugar, white flour, alcohol, or junk food. We’ve wanted to stop consuming these things, and Lent is a great time to deny ourselves of their pleasures as we enjoy a time of spiritual reflection.

2. Crutches We Believe Help Us Function

Many of us are quick to claim we couldn’t get through the day without a strong mug of java. But in truth, we don’t genuinely need coffee to function. We only need the Lord. Lent, then, becomes a time when we honestly assess our reliance — or over-reliance — on certain substances, such as coffee to kickstart our sleeping brains and bodies for the day, or sleeping pills to wind down at night and get enough shut-eye. Some people choose to use the money they spend on coffee and donate that to a ministry instead.

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3. Bad Habits

A man on a phone

We humans tend to self-soothe in ways that are not always healthy. When stressed or down-hearted, perhaps we turn to shopping therapy, complaining, gossiping, or using curse words. Lent can be a good opportunity to examine our hearts and behaviors, putting an end to what can look on the surface like innocent “bad habits” but are in actuality sins standing in the way of right relationship with God.

4. Social Media

Social media can be a wonderful way to connect with distant relatives and friends, as well as to engage in ministry. But for many people, social media can be toxic. We might compare ourselves to others on social media, or feel pangs of envy or even jealousy over someone else’s blessings. Or maybe we have come to rely on social media for connection instead of real, face-to-face interaction with our neighbors and coworkers, or we are spending far too much time online than with our family in the evenings. A healthy life is a balanced life, and a life lived entirely online isn’t ideal. Therefore, many people take a social media hiatus during Lent.

5. Mindless Entertainment 

Lent is also a time to explore what other “food” we are putting into our body. Just like many of us try to eliminate or reduce junk food during Lent, others consider cutting back on the “junk food” they watch, especially when it’s in place of quality time with loved ones. That means cutting out mindless TV scrolling or playing video games for hours on end during Lent.

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Why Take On Something for Lent?

A man holding a Bible

But Lent doesn’t have to mean giving something up. Many Christians prefer to adopt a new spiritual discipline or behavior that helps them draw closer to Christ in this season of contemplation. For example, some people volunteer during Lent, or begin a prayer-walking routine that simultaneously gets them in shape while drawing them closer to Christ.

If you’re not sure where to start, think about Christ himself. What sort of behaviors would he engage in? Anything that helps you transform your daily living into a more Christlike lifestyle is ideal.

5 Things to Take on for Lent

1. Read the Bible Daily

This is my personal favorite Lenten challenge from about a decade ago. I decided for Lent I would read the Bible a little bit every day — and that eventually turned into a daily habit that lasts until today. If you’re not a daily Bible reader, consider starting during Lent. Find a Bible translation that is understandable to you. There are some in old-fashioned language as well as new ones in common vernacular that are easier to comprehend. Find one that fits your taste and is understandable.

Secondly, make sure it’s a Bible you can write in. For me, being able to underline passages helped me focus when my body and brain struggled to embrace this new habit. Then set a goal. For me, it was a chapter a day, read in order.

If you are already a daily Bible reader, consider tackling a book you have always struggled with, or participate in a Bible study.

2. Prayer Habit

Another good Lenten practice is spending longer stretches of time in prayer. You might start incorporating prayer with your morning walk. One year for Lent I prayed during most of my commute instead of listening to music. Or perhaps you might try a different kind of prayer, such as a prayer journal, meditative prayer, contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina, and more.

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3. Random Acts of Kindness or Mercy

Jar with a bunch of colorful notes in it

Jesus was well known for his acts of mercy. As he said in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Consider daily random acts of kindness or mercy as a Lenten challenge. For example, you could secretly bring in your neighbor’s trash cans one afternoon before she arrives home from work. You might pay the toll for the car behind you, or do a drive-through “pay it forward,” paying for your meal as well as the meal for the car behind you at a fast-food drive-through. One year, my daughter made sweet notes with inspirational and loving messages and taped them to the inside of the stalls in a public restroom.

4. Eat Better

Instead of giving up junk food, adopt a new habit that is good for your mind and body. If you’ve been contemplating a vegetarian or vegan diet, try it for Lent. If you despise green vegetables but know you need to eat them, eat green vegetables daily for Lent. Perhaps your doctor has been praising the benefits of green tea or a capful of apple cider vinegar, but you don’t like the taste. That, combined with a thoughtful and prayerful time of reflection, can make a wonderful Lenten challenge.

5. Photo (or Poem) a Day Challenge

For those who are creative and expressive, consider incorporating this into Lent. Challenge yourself to take a photo of something faith-based, encouraging, kind, or inspiring every day and post it on social media. Encourage friends to do the same. If you don’t have a photographic eye, write a poem, or make a small craft.

These are some ideas to get your started. Whatever you do, whether you give something up or take something on (or both!), remember that the point of Lent is about clearing distractions, focusing on Christ, reflecting on the sacrifice he made, and resolving to deepen your relationship with him through repentance and prayer.

I think you’ll find that when Easter morning rolls around, your Lenten challenge has helped you achieve deeper intimacy with the Lord.

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Jessica Brodie author photo headshotJessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.