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Prayer, alms and fasting: A Lenten recipe for good

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Catherine W. Idzerda
February 17, 2010
— The early church fathers probably weren’t thinking of our mental health when they set up the church year.

But both Lent and Advent are designed to encourage Christians to let go of what’s meaningless and embrace their true priorities, local ministers said.


“The church takes this time to refocus intentionally on our relationship with God and one another,” said the Rev. Bond Alderman of St. John Lutheran Church, Janesville.


The process is distinctly therapeutic: What’s important in our lives? What’s getting in the way of our priorities?


Lent is often viewed as a dour time, and that’s not surprising considering its three main parts are prayer, fasting and alms giving, and they’re all part of the penitential plan.


“The penitential part is the feeling that you want to clean up your act to be truly worthy to celebrate Easter,” said the Rev. Stephen J. Umhoefer of the Nativity of Mary Church, Janesville. “It’s like cleaning house in preparation for a big party.”


Prayer is “consciously uniting yourself with God.”


Even the most devote churchgoers find it’s hard to develop a prayer habit in everyday life—just as it’s a challenge to meet all the requirements of Christian living.


“As fallen people we forget, we get busy,” said Haldeman.


Prayer requires people to sit quietly, often in silence, and in today’s world that’s practically counter cultural. Believers also are encouraged to make time to attend additional services or spend time in a Bible study group.


Fasting has to do with “giving up something in order to recognize where our good comes from,” Umhoefer said.


“It’s easy for us to start imaging that because we have all the creature comforts and all the security, we’re OK,” Um said. “We forget we still need God.”


Fasting and alms giving are part of the Lenten tradition of selflessness designed to remind believers of Christ’s sacrifice.


The message of both is, in part, “I’m not the center of universe,” Haldeman said.


Alms giving can take the form of giving money or, perhaps even more difficult, contributing time to those in need by working at a charity.


“Whether you give something up or do something, motivation is the important thing,” Umhoefer said. “It’s about where your heart is.”


The bottom line?


By setting aside the things that don’t matter and the things that get in the way of your most important relationships, the Lenten menu of prayer fasting and alms giving might even help you find where your heart is.



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