A week ago, my brand new iMac work computer died on me, taking with it years of youth ministry files. When asked why I hadn't backed up the files, I responded, "Who expected a brand new Mac to crash and burn a week after buying it!?" My initial reaction was to be angry. I was ready to march down to the Mac store and declare war. And then a new feeling came to me. It's the same feeling that I get when I do spring cleaning and finally get rid of a bunch of junk I've been carrying around with me for years. It's that feeling of release that comes when you let go of "stuff" that was actually crowding your life...and make room for something new.
Lent can be a season for encouraging youth to let go of some of the stuff in their lives. But I'm suggesting going beyond challenging them to give up some temptation such as chocolate or coffee or video games. Too often this sort of practice simply turns into a demonstration of one's willpower. Rather, the challenge of Lent is to give up some of the stuff in our lives in order to make room for something new -- perhaps even making more room for God. Invite your youth to rank the top ten things that they spend time on in a given week. Where does their faith rank? After school, homework, job, video games, socializing? Which one of these would they be willing to lay aside during Lent in order to give more time to their faith? Which would they give up in order to allow more time for prayer, Bible study, serving others, going to worship or youth group? What might they lose in taking up this challenge? What to they think they might gain?
One other thought: If some of your youth want to give up something that costs money -- such as junk food -- challenge them to use the money for something else. Here is an idea shared by a colleague of mine from seminary that challenges us to take stock of our lives during Lent as a way to give an offering to a worthy cause.