Do less of this! Do more of that! Definitely don’t think this, and don’t be caught saying that! Don’t eat this, don’t wear that, don’t listen to this and don’t be bothered with that! Abstain, Abstain, ABSTAIN!! Every year the list of do’s and don’ts of Lent can torment the people who observe the 40 days before the Christian holiday Easter, better known as Resurrection Sunday. I will admit it. I was one of those people who was overcome with dread at just the thought of having to “give up” something just to prove to the world how committed and how strong of a Christian I was. The idea of abstaining, removing and denying (and for 40 days!!!) just didn’t appeal to me. If God knew my heart, why did I have to give up meat, or any kind of food, just to get his attention? The idea to do the corporate church fast was a great idea in the pew, but the delight and bliss of knowing that other people were suffering and just as hungry as I was wore off not too long after leaving the church parking lot. I did not have a problem standing on the sidelines watching everyone else starve themselves to get closer to God while I indulged on prime rib, freshly cooked vegetables and a sweet baked potato…..until I discovered what it REALLY meant to me….
I never thought about Lent in terms of gain. I always thought of it in terms of loss- what I was going to give up, what I was going to miss, what I was being forced to do without. I didn’t see myself as strong enough, spiritual enough or ready enough to give anything up with consistency. I would try it for a few days then cave in after finding every excuse to rejoin the world of gluttony, anger, resentment and pride. The life of an undisciplined Christian is much less fun than I could ever imagine. This was my story year after year…..until I discovered MY why- not the why of the church, not the reason that sounded good or looked good to other people- MY why. Life had dealt me a series of blows- some of my own doing (feeling like I was hitting myself in the face with my own two fists) and some blows from other people’s poor decisions. If the whole idea of Lent was giving up something for me to get closer to God, then now was the time that I needed the comfort and reassurance of His touch! Finding MY why on the outskirts of religious rhetoric and tradition not only made the idea more conceivable, but it made it absolutely necessary. I had to set aside myself to find myself. I had to set aside the immediate desires I had for food to feed my flesh and sacrifice it to fill the need and the hunger I had to feed my spirit. I had finally realized that letting people or a calendar dictate my behavior would never be enough to get me to the place in my life where I needed to be. I had to see the value and the benefit of Lent for myself. It had to make sense to me, and finally it did.
40 Things to Give Up for Lent and Beyond struck me as an interesting title for the book that we are studying as a family at church. Of course, I went into panic mode quickly when I read the number. “40 things? That is a lot!” I said to myself, of course. But as I opened the book and perused the table of contents, I was suddenly put at ease as I glanced at the list. The thought of giving up apathy, distraction, negativity, worry, bitterness, guilt, impatience and feelings of unworthiness warmed my soul. The idea of living a life free of all of those things became appealing to me, and I would do whatever I needed to do to live the kind of life that brought that kind of peace and freedom. This is exactly what I needed at this point on my journey.
I can’t help but to think that the reason why so many people never reach their full potential is because of their inability to stop, see and address the areas IN them that keep them from success in the areas AROUND them. I am planning my pitstop- the place to stop and get a mental, physical and spiritual “tune up”. I am worth the self-care and introspection that I encourage others to practice. I must be careful not to frustrate myself by attempting to pour out of an empty cup or give to others what I don’t have myself. It’s time for me to look inward and gauge my own successes and failures on their on merit and not on others’ opinions and guidelines. I have found peace in finding the value of the season of Lent. I have found me, and I am excited to discover an even better version of who I never thought I could be. She is worth giving it all up; it’s not loss. IT. IS. GAIN.