Lent is a period of 40 days (technically 46 days because Sundays are not counted) starting Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter when many Christians vow to abstain from pleasures and habits like not eating ice cream or carbs, swearing, watching TV, buying unnecessary items, social media, etc. The spiritual observance of Lent is prescribed as daily prayer, sacrifice, abstinence and repentance in preparation for Easter. The New Orleans tradition of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday leading up to Lent is delightful. Everyone parties down to the last minute, having as much fun as possible before having to repent. It’s one thing to repent for lawlessness, but why do we need to repent for indulging in joy? As a promotion, getting excited and happy in anticipation of Easter is a better campaign.
I’m not writing this article to get into a passionate religious debate on repentance. I respect the theology behind the Lenten practice. Instead I want to point out that Lent is not just for the Christians; it’s a vehicle for positive change and personal development. I have friends that are not religious, but they use Lent as a reason to begin making personal changes or reverse bad habits. For them, Lent becomes a movement for improvement, or a program for progress. Commitments that empower us make us healthier, wealthier, and happier people.
The six-week period of Lent is a great start to breaking an unhealthy habit like smoking, or starting a new healthy habit like exercising every day. A common belief that it takes only 21 days to break or start a new habit, is actually not scientifically proven. What is the point of committing to improvements in our lifestyle if it’s not going to become permanent? That is the key! The pledge you make and start never ends. When Easter arrives and the bunny left you a basket of chocolate eggs, but you vowed to stop eating chocolate you give that basket of chocolate to a kid who would enjoy the gift.
My Lent sacrifices in years past have been the usual stuff like, not eating red meat, no carbs; don’t say the F-word, etc. About three years ago I realized that abstaining from these little vices for a short period of time wasn’t helping me be a better person. I wasn’t “holy” or made whole because I was able to give up bad habit for a few weeks. I didn’t feel a real sense of accomplishment because I just went back to life as usual. My recent commitments have been much deeper and continuous. This year I started my Lent sacrifice a few weeks before Ash Wednesday. I vowed to stop fear and self-criticism from holding me back from living my life fully and with joy. It’s a very daunting mission because the root causes of my fear and negative behavior is connected to emotional pain that goes very deep. With perseverance and practice I’m becoming aware of my negative thoughts and behavior patterns in time to let them go, and flip those thoughts and actions to claim my power as I have never done before. It is an ongoing process that will continue past Lent. If you are a regular reader of my column then you might remember a Nish Notes article I wrote, “The Real Crisis is Joy,” in February. That is when I started my 2017 Lent pledge of change.
Committing to personal development that benefits you in the long run, is something you can control. You don’t need others to help you accomplish your goal, but support from a friend or partner will help you stay on track. In a world that appears to be in chaos much of the time, you could make a significant improvement in your emotional life by acknowledging one beautiful and positive thing happening in your life today, and do that every day. Changes happen constantly and some changes bring anxiety. However, any change that improves your life can fuel more good changes everywhere. Use Lent as your vehicle to arrive at a better life for you.