The Confused Protestant’s Guide to Lent. Plus 10 ideas for how to observe it.

A lot of us protestant types aren’t exactly experts on the subject of Lent. The continuum of lent awareness goes like this:

This post will only be helpful to the JV squad on the left side of that continuum. If you’re positioned more toward the right side you might want to consult an expert. Or leave a few comments here, correcting me as needed, and be our expert!

 The Basics

  • The word ‘Lent’ means springtime.
  • The practice dates back to the 4th century (at least).
  • It’s a 40 day period of fasting and reflection that leads up to Easter (actually 46 days, more on that later).
  • It begins on Ash Wednesday (more on that later, too), and ends on Easter Sunday.

Ash Wednesday

  • This is the kick-off to Lent, and there’s usually a worship service to go with it.
  • During the service ashes are put on the forehead of the worshipers (this is where most of us protestants start getting weirded out).
  • The ashes are supposed to be from the remains of burning the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services. This is a varsity move that’s not always practiced.
  • In the Bible ashes are symbolic of mourning, mortality and repentance. This sets the tone for the season. Lent is all about remembering the sacrifice of our Suffering Saviour, and lining ourselves up with it in some small way.
  • Also, his is where other traditions like Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras have their roots (best I can tell our Catholic friends didn’t plan that part).


  • The 40 days of fasting corresponds to the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before he began his ministry.
  • Lent starts 46 days before Easter, though. Why? Because you don’t fast on Sundays. For a Christian every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. So, during Lent there’s no fasting on the Sabbath, just feasting!
  • If you’re curious about how Catholics fast during Lent, this seems like a good place to look.

So, is there a place for Lent for protestant types like me? Absolutely!
Lent isn’t just a Catholic thing (a ton of Protestant traditions participate), it’s a Christian thing.

The practice is rich in more than just history and symbolism. It’s a truly meaningful way to prepare ourselves for the biggest celebration of the year, and to remind us of the sacrifices Jesus made for us.

What should I fast?

Protestants and Catholics alike are encouraged to fill in their own blanks here. My recommendation is to set something aside that will consistently remind you of the sufferings of Jesus. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Follow the expert’s lead, and take the Catholic approach
  2. Do a Daniel fast
  3. Cut out a modern convenience that you use regularly (limit cell phone use, give your microwave a break, etc.)
  4. Cut out sweets (tough to define that one!)
  5. Stop drinking coffee, or other stimulants (tea, The Dew, Red Bull, etc)
  6. Don’t eat out for 40 days (bonus: will save  you cash!)
  7. Do this!
  8. I read about some guys who ate only hunger relief rations for Lent. What a great idea!
  9. Consider unplugging from social media (gasp!)
  10. What about shutting off that blasted TV? Or maybe just a show you watch daily (“Please, dear God, not Sportscenter!”).

Do one of those things. Do something else. Skip it if you want to…but please don’t be legalistic about it! Let me know how it goes.

  • Have you ever practiced Lent? How’d it go?
  • Any other suggestions of things to give up for Lent?

Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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