40 days for wanderers, wonderers, and somehow-allergic-to-churchers

open sign

today is ash wednesday, the mark of the beginning of lent. for some, it’s a season that has sincere spiritual significance. for others, it’s just another time of a lot of prayers and posts on facebook that can feel annoying. and for others, there’s not really a big connection to lent in its traditional form but there is a desire to connect with God in some way that doesn’t feel trite, forced, or cold.

when our faith has shifted and we’re not sure which end is up anymore, any smell of religiosity just won’t work.  even though i am a person who enjoys this season for the most part, i notice that some of the stuff i read makes me cringe a little. it can feel so exclusive, only for a certain group who speaks a certain language. it can feel privileged, seemingly irrelevant to many people without resources or margin.  it can feel contrived, a little like christmas where there are actually 11 other months of the year where our hearts are supposed to be just as open to God and others.

i like lent on the whole because i  love the Jesus stories & appreciate intention; it always helps me. at the refuge, we do stations & reflective stuff that help me dial down a bit and connect with God and my soul.  i don’t always give something up but i decided this year to try one thing for 40 days that will be really hard for me but i know i need:  to not have my phone in my car when i am driving, to put it in the trunk (trust me, i can always find a way pull it out of the back seat!) and to keep the radio off.  the radio part isn’t near as hard as the phone.  but there’s no doubt, i need more quiet.  i need more unplugged. i need more space.

this past weekend at the refuge the grownups and kids brainstormed 40 different ideas for lent.  we read nadia bolz-weber’s list to inspire our own ideas, and then everyone wrote a possibility on a sticky note and we pulled it all together.  the 40 days of refuge lent was formed, and i extra love it because it wasn’t just made by the adults but all the kids, too.

in that spirit, i thought it would be kind of fun to make a list of 40 possible ideas for those of us who have somehow shifted in our faith and might feel a little lost this season.  we want intention but aren’t part of a church body anymore.  we want to notice God but can’t seem to find him in the old spiritual disciplines.  we are a bit confused & lonely and don’t quite know how to find our way.  we are weary of religion but long for a breath of life & hope & mercy & peace. we want to keep waking up to new life and find our way out of the fog.

i love the thought that my friend pam wilhelms shared at our fall theology camp, that “spiritual transformation is all about waking up.”

waking up to ourselves. waking up to others. waking up to a new image of God. waking up to healing. waking up to life. waking up to….you fill in the blank, you know what you may need to wake up to these days.

these ideas are just a mix of possibilities. some are from the refuge & nadia’s lists and others are off the top of my head as i think through some of the questions, hopes, and dreams i have during this season of my faith. i have no idea if this will be helpful to anyone or not, but it was kind of fun to create. take whatever you need from them. they’re just ideas, ways to wake up, ways to engage with our soul, ways to love others, ways to notice beauty, ways to be open to God in the unexpected.

so here you go:

40 days for wanderers, wonderers, and somehow-allergic-to-churchers

1 / consider one thing you still believe about God, no matter how big or small.

2 / go outside and sit in silence for 10 minutes, even if it’s cold & enjoy the quiet.

3 / look at the stars one night.

4 / notice your feet on the ground all day today.

5 / pray in some way, shape or form for your enemies.

6 / make a whine list, all the things that are driving you crazy right now.  let it rip until you are tired of hearing yourself whine.  throw it in the trash as an intention.

7 / disconnect from the internet for the day(s) and enjoy the peace.

8 / try to remember a really good church memory, no matter how big or small.  don’t evaluate it; just celebrate it with tenderness.

9 / before you go to bed, think through your day and try to recall a moment where you felt loved in some way, shape or form.

10 / before you take your first sip of coffee (or whatever you drink) in the morning, pause and remember what you want to be more aware of and awake to today.

11 / create something–a collage, an art piece, a food item, a ______________.

12 /  think about who in your life might need some extra encouragement right now; send them an email or a text or give them a call.

13 / read matthew 5:3-10 in the message.

14 / ask someone, anyone, for help.

15 / finish this sentence and reflect on it throughout the day.  the part i really like about my life now is….

16 / think of something Jesus said that you really appreciate.

17 /  look through old scrapbooks.

18 /  go through your bookshelf and purge the books you can’t believe you used to like.  celebrate and keep the ones that you still do.

19 / read the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous (yeah, they’re for everyone).

20 /before you eat your meal, take a few minutes and remember those who are going to bed hungry tonight.

21 /  expect something good.

22 / give thanks for something unexpected that happens.

23 / scoop up all the spare change in your house and give it to someone who needs it.

24 / bring someone flowers.

25 / go on a walk when you should be doing something “more productive.”

26 / eat something sweet; as you do, reflect on the sweet things in your life right now.

27 / don’t turn on your car radio.

28 / meditate on this today:  what’s a dream buried in your heart that is hard to say out loud?

29 /  write a letter, sharing how you’re feeling about your faith, no matter how short or long.  don’t edit.  don’t evaluate how dumb it might feel. just let yourself say it.  it can be to God or to yourself or however you want to address it.

30 / call an old friend that you keep meaning to connect with.

31 / forgive someone.

32 /  light a candle (or 2 or 3 or 10) and say a prayer for your friends who are hurting.

33 /  make a donation, no matter how big or small, to a local non-profit you feel good about supporting.

34 /  pay for the coffee for the person behind you in line or in the drive-through.

35 /   make a gratitude list with at least 5 things on it.

36 /  watch the sunrise.

37 / donate a bag of clothes with stuff you actually like instead of only giving your throwaways.

38 / write a positive message on your bathroom mirror with something you really need to hear today.

39 / send a friend a card, a good old-fashioned one with a real stamp.

40 / remember that one thing you believe about God that sustains you. it’s enough.


ps: i have a post up this week at sheloves magazine for march’s down we go column. it’s called everybody needs an advocate. we all need one, we can all be one. see you next week! peace, kathy

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • I’m printing this out and putting it on my mirror. AWESOME! I’m laughing and crying as I read it.

  • Kathy, I hear what you say about “reflective stuff that help me dial down a bit and connect with God and my soul” and the ideas that have come together with contributions form the adults and kids in community within the refuge.

    It seems to me that what you might be touching on is what appears to me this culture of individualism and state of high alert that is common now in both the American and British culture. So I perceive it being inmortant that we do manage our stress levels and activyl seek out community in a way that wasn’t necessary but just happened in my experience in previous decades. It could of course be nostalgia for me, but as a kid growing up in the 70′ I don’t remember anyone lacking in community or having problems with stress.

    I get to “dial down” with meditation alone and in community, in sports communities with skiing and rowing and with leading ski trips. The more I think about this it seems to be relevant to be incarnational – taking Christ’s presence out into communities rather than inviatational – inviting people into a faith community with the way I am wired and works for me. Although I am content in the faith community i am in at the moment.

    Oh any by the way Kathy – there can be an easy cure for you not using the phone while driving. Come to the UK – it is illegal to do that- that’ll get you trained out of that bad habit! *wink*.

    God bless, sending love to you and the refuge form over here in the UK.


    • thanks, adam. i am really enjoying the quiet but it is so hard to do when i am wired to use that time in a certain way. great practice.

  • This is so helpful, and makes participation in Lent so accessible. I have practiced several so far that don’t scream of spirituality on the surface, but do help me feel closer to God. 🙂 Super grateful #whaddyaknow #whoknew


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