Okay, my friends, I’m going to dive into my Christian faith here.

The 40-day season of Lent begins on February 14 this year. Chocolate or no chocolate? Yes or no to wine?

Even people who profess to be Christians but are not affiliated with a church will often give up some temptation or vice during this nearly six-week period. Going without can make us go deeper and ponder our faith, but too often we can become overly focused on how hard we are having it without sweets or social media (both are bad in excess!), and we still don’t focus on our relationship with God.

There have been years when I have abstained from some thing (two Lents without Facebook!) and years when I have done other practices, such as writing a note a day to someone who needed encouragement or last year’s practice of writing a daily Lenten devotional with questions for journaling.

As a new Lenten season beckons us Christians to go deeper with Christ, why not choose three, four, or all of the seven practices below during February to grow and stretch your faith, and keep right on doing them throughout Lent? You will most likely-with the prompting of the Spirit- change your own life and the life of another AND you can still enjoy a few of your little indulgences!

From the heart and experience of one who loves the Triune God but can still be rotten to the core, I offer you the following suggestions:

1.Be Still– The psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” We can’t hear God’s voice whispering to us if we are constantly in motion and have background noise surrounding us. Try sitting in your favorite chair, on the floor, or anywhere that’s comfortable for you for 10 minutes a day. No music, no TV… nothing. Just be still and breathe. Try reading about the physical aspects of a crucifixion and ponder that while you’re still.

2. Worship With Others– Church attendance and a deep or growing relationship with Christ are not synonymous. I know many devout Christians who-for various reasons- do not attend church. I know many folks who are at church every time the door is open, yet they have nothing nice to say about anyone. I GET why organized religion can be a major turnoff (and let’s not even get into the “pass the plate and pump up the Porsche” speeches).

Why worship? Someone much bigger than our great but peon human minds put all this into motion, so we worship and adore and give back a little of ourselves. Corporate worship (worshipping with others) is powerful. Aren’t a member of a particular church? Try out a bunch of them during Lent. Go from Baptist to Catholic to Methodist and everything in between. Experience different forms of worship, and meet a lot of people. I worshipped at a little African-American country church a few years ago, and those two hours (Yes, two!) flew by as I clapped and sang and was love bombed. Last year I attended my first Friends (Quaker) meeting. Both of these services were truly meaningful experiences that are outside of my normal routine.

3. Fellowship With Others Through Bible Studies and Other Similar Gatherings- There is wonder to be found when we spend time sharing with other Christians and seekers. Three people can read the same passage of scripture, but it speaks to each of them in different ways. When they share what they are “hearing” or getting from the passage, they learn from each other and ponder things they may not have considered. I know church groups that sometimes meet in pubs and talk over beer about how God is working in their lives. Popular programs in my own neck of the woods are “Theology on Tap” and “Pub Theology.” Gather. Share. Connect. Sip, if you’d like.The Lord Himself gathered around tables over food and beverages.

4. Study God’s Word (aka, the Bible)- I love God’s Word. I’m sort of a Bible study geek. I crave my mornings when I get grounded with God. When I don’t start my days this way, I often get out of sorts. A fellow soul sister recently said in our faith sharing group, “There is power in God’s Word.” Amen to that. I have been an amateur armchair theologian for years, and I have had mystical and powerful encounters with the Word of God. Not too familiar with the Bible? Try starting with the Psalms or the Gospel of Mark, the first written gospel. Pray for God to give you insight into what He is revealing through certain verses, and for goodness sake, don’t get caught up in being too literal and don’t allow your intellectual mind to overanalyze. Just let the Word soak in and speak to YOU!

5. Pray Straight From Your Heart- Many of us learned table graces and other rote prayers as children. Such prayers have meaning and can instill in us the important of prayer. Many churches have a lot of prayers that may seem rote, but if a person is praying them with sincerity and from the heart, they are anything but rote! My favorite example of prayer is found in the first chapter of 1 Samuel, where we see a barren Hannah pouring out her heart to God… pouring. Read it for yourself. I love the image of her desires just flowing from her heart to God.

When I was a new widow nearly 25 years ago and wondering how I would raise my little boys when our meager finances were frozen, I poured out my heart to God one morning-POURED- and He gave me straight up, black and white reassurance, not once, but twice within minutes. That’s a story that’s finally being written.

I was recently in a group of women where a friend was asked to pray, but she struggled, because she was accustomed to rote prayers. The group’s leader, a spiritual director, gently touched her arm and said, “Just pray from your heart.” My friend started speaking slowly and a bit reluctantly, but she prayed from her heart. It is through the act of praying that we talk to God.  A quick “Thank you, Lord” while driving down the road is a sincere, from-the-heart prayer. Just speak. He’s listening.

6. Help Someone in Need– Want to get outside of yourself and feel great? Reach out to someone who needs encouragement, material items, or monetary donations. Opportunities are all around us to give of ourselves and items we no longer need. You will brighten someone’s day, feel better about yourself, and possibly see God in the midst of it all. Plus, you will be living the true essence of the gospels.

7. Get Out in Nature- Many people’s sanctuary is a large garden or wooded trail. I personally think that nothing screams louder of God’s magnificence than the cycle of the seasons, spring buds bursting forth, all forms of precipitation, and our planets and stars and whatever lies beyond them. All of these things are petty remarkable and blow our minds if we try to think too much about them. Just savor.

Go deep this Lent, my friends. If you choose to give up something, then make sure you are Christ-focused and not focused on what you’re missing. Put into practice a few disciplines, and grow your faith to a new level.

Amen, amen, and amen.

Amy Walton is a multi-certified women’s life coach who lives in coastal Virginia but coaches clients around the country through Skype and FaceTime (and sometimes, the phone). This year she may or may not give up her little glass of a nice red blend each night, but you can be sure she will be diving deeper in her relationship with Christ through the seven steps she mentioned in the above blog post. Connect with Amy at www.amywaltoncoaching.com or at amywaltoncoaching@gmail.com.