The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead. However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius aptly describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”
For many, Ash Wednesday marks a time to “give up” something that they enjoy a lot- generallya food or activity, i.e. eating sweets or chocolate, or not drinking. While I am not the one to criticize what anyone does in the name of sacrifice, I am urging us to give up things that will, as stated above, transform our entire person. So, my personal sacrifices will not be my usual sugar products but things more integral to my growth hindrance. Your list might not be the same as mine, but I suggest that we all may benefit from choosing from the following list for our fasting and denial:
1. Fast from comparing yourself to anyone else. You are uniquely you and in order to fully appreciate you there must be a celebration of the God within and a recognition of your unique purpose for this lifetime.
2. Fast from excuses. In order to transform we have to do the work that allows the transformation to occur. You MUST do the work. NO excuses accepted.
3. Deny others the right to steal your joy. If someone else is unhappy and unsettled in their spirit, they often look for company. Recognize it for what it is. Have sympathy and empathy for them, but do not allow them to pull you onto their unhappy train. Smile, feel bad for them but not with them, and keep going in your glory.
4. Deny yourself the right to be lazy. We all need to exercise regularly and yes EVERYONE does have the time to do it. It is simply a matter of deciding to make the time. In addition to exercise, do not allow yourself to rest on your laurels. Press forward. The very best you is right in front of your eyes. Do whatever (probably small) things are required to reach him/her.
5. Sacrifice spending any of your time and energy worrying about what others are doing. Your focus during this time period and always is on transforming yourself. You can not do that by looking outward, only inward. If we are looking at others we are missing the opportunity to do some very necessary self-examination.
6. Fast from self-criticism. When you know better you do better. Again focus on self and do what you need to do from THIS moment in time to do better. There is nothing we can do today to change yesterday. We live in today and look forward to tomorrow. You can, however, recognize “wrong” you have done in the past. This still does not involve self-criticism but self-assessment. If you have negative feelings over some action from the past do what is necessary to repent or correct it. You can not force the other person (s) to accept your act, you can only offer it and once that is done you should be done with it.
7. Fast from doing things that are not good for us. While this may include the traditional Lenten sacrifices of smoking or over-indulging, it can also include spending time with those who mean us no good, remaining in a relationship that is toxic, gossiping (how difficult is this to give up?), allowing people to disrespect or mistreat us, remaining on a job where we are not thriving, etc. You get the idea. Now is the time to let these things go. Some are done more quickly than others,but begin to put the wheels in motion that will allow you to move toward your greatness.
I am deliberately keeping this list somewhat short, but I believe you get the point. Lent is intended to be about so much more than not eating a candy bar or having a glass of wine for 40 days. We are still early. My delay in getting this posted puts us at day 2 of the season, but it’s not to late to begin working toward your best self. I have a feeling we will all feel better with sticking to some of the items from this list (or others you may come up with) than we would not eating ice cream for a month and a half. 🙂
Spread love…peace and blessings.