contributed by Alison Thalhammer
Easter is just around the corner and that means… Lent! Well, I’m sure it means a lot of different things for each of us. Springtime, baskets of candy, egg hunts, and Marshmallow bunnies!
For me, growing up Catholic, before you got to all those goodies, you first had to sacrifice: Lent. Don’t run away! This isn’t going to be a religious rant or an opinionated attempt to change your doctrine. It might make you want to change your way of thinking… but, that’s all!
What are you giving up?
As a kid, I always gave up chocolate or desserts for Lent. Forty days without sweets and then a Breakfast of candy on Easter morning. This was fine, but what did it do for me? Taught me about sacrifice and discipline, perhaps, but, not even real sacrifice. The point of Lent is to remind us of our humanity, humble us, and to help us better ourselves.
Does that make you a better person?
A few years ago, I heard something that made me reassess my Lenten sacrifices. In short, the speaker asked if not eating junk food made us better in the long run. Maybe it helped us eat healthier, which is definitely a beneficial result. But, after Lent, don’t most people go right back to eating whatever it was they gave up? Maybe even splurging on it because they missed it so much? So much for moderation at that point, right?
It’s like that New Year’s Resolution that seems to be forgotten about by the time February rolls around…
By the way, how is your New Year’s Resolution holding up?
What can I take from this?
Lent includes prayer, penance, fasting, and almsgiving. Religious or not, these are all things that can help us in our everyday lives.
Prayer. You don’t necessarily have to pray to any god or deity. You can simply meditate. It’s a time set aside for quiet, “you time.” To reflect on your day, focus on your goals, and center yourself.
Penance. This doesn’t mean you have to go to confession and tell all your sins to a Priest. It’s healthy to recognize when we have messed up so that we can learn and move on. If we have wronged someone, we need to acknowledge that and own up to it. We need to apologize and do our best to right the wrong. We also need to accept our mistakes and forgive ourselves.
Fasting. This doesn’t mean don’t eat for a whole day or give up snacking. You can fast from other things too. Fast from jealousy, gossiping, or laziness. You can “give up” negative attitudes and unhealthy behaviors instead of chips.
Fasting (not just giving up a certain food, but in the sense of abstaining from eating altogether in certain religious practices) can actually be detrimental to your health. You may have trouble focusing throughout the day because your brain isn’t getting enough nutrients and your body goes into starvation mode, slowing down your metabolism. This can result in overeating when you do break your fast.
Almsgiving. This doesn’t mean you have to give all of your savings to the Church. Or even give money at all. It’s about charity. You can donate money to the poor or a worthy cause. But, not everyone has the monetary means to do that. Instead, volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. There are countless ways to be charitable. And it feels good when we give to others.
How will this make me better?
The point of Lent and New Year’s Resolutions and any other vow to change are all meant to make us better. I never felt like a better person after forty days without sweets.
I did feel better when I gave up making negative comments. Anytime I thought about complaining or saying something less than nice, I held it in and said something positive instead. Or complimented someone. Anything to avoid the negative energy that results from whining and pessimism. Sure, I slipped a few times and complained or repeated gossip, but it lessened as time went on. And I started feeling happier and more positive. And that spread to others. (Because no one wants to be around those negative, whining complainers.) And after those forty days of Lent, I didn’t stop. I continued to think and act in a more positive, optimistic way. Because my “fasting” from negativity had, indeed, made me a better person.