Monday, February 12, 2018

The Lenten Season

Lent always brings me back to the playground of my Catholic elementary school, my friends and I huddled together in our green plaid uniforms, whispering excitedly to each other, "What are you giving up for Lent?"

They were such innocent times, when the simplest of things seemed fresh and new. The sacrifice didn't need to be huge, either, just as long as we picked something before our next religion class to tell Sister. I applaud the nuns at my school for keeping it light, for just asking us to choose something ... anything.

Giving up chocolate or sugar or soda for 40 days wasn't a huge ordeal, and the whole thing was on the honor system, anyway. It was between you and God whether you kept your promise or not.

In the years since, I have been less faithful in keeping the practice of Lent. I have not been particularly devoted, although I can say that I have warm and wonderful memories of my years in Catholic school. Some of the kindest people I have ever known were nuns and priests. Not all of them, of course ... they're only human, after all ... but some left an imprint on my heart that has remained with me all of my life.

It's easy to forget about Lent in the anticipation of St. Valentine's Day ... picking out cards, baking up sweetheart treats, buying flowers, or making restaurant reservations. Mardi Gras has more of a following (that's a topic for another time), while Lent gets little attention except from the devout. I'll admit that I have let Lent come and go without more than a passing thought in recent years.

However, I've been thinking quite a bit about renewing my practice of the observance more faithfully, and it is not just about being a good Catholic. Sometimes fasting or intentionally making a sacrifice just feels like the right thing to do ... something good to do for your soul.

I have never been much of a fan of self-denial or martyrdom. I don't find it particularly virtuous. But when a self-sacrifice is undertaken by choice, as a practice of self-discipline and just to exercise the muscle of keeping a promise, then I believe it can be a beneficial and transformative experience. If nothing else, abstinence builds character, right?

That was the thing about Lent during our elementary school days. It was playful, it was fun, it was a challenge, it was often a secret we kept to ourselves or whispered only between friends. It was light-hearted and for our own benefit and sense of accomplishment, only.

And, it was meaningful. The idea was to choose something that we would really miss, so that we could become more appreciative and more mindful of the things we have, or of the choices we are making in our lives. So that we could practice self-discipline, self-control and restraint, and build up that emotional intelligence (before that was even "a thing").  It was a time to reflect on our lives.

For example, giving up swearing may sound easy until we promise not to do it. Then we realize how often we actually do, often without thinking or even just in our own self-talk.

We talk to ourselves more than we do to anyone else, so we should be selective in the quality of the words we use, even with ourselves. If we can be mindful to watch our language when we are with others (like our moms, our boss, or with clergy), then we should be just as mindful about the words we choose to speak to ourselves in our own minds.

It's kind of like New Year's Resolutions, part II ... but for a limited time only.

Lent is a way to realize and say goodbye to the attachments we have to things ... even things that are not good for us, or that no longer serve us. Or simply to recognize them for what they are ... limited worldly pleasures that are small and fleeting. Giving up chocolate for a few weeks may be a sacrifice, but it is certainly a trivial matter in the course of a lifetime.

I am a proponent of enjoying the good things in the world. In my opinion, it is the reason for life. But choosing to practice self-discipline in order to grow and challenge ourselves, and to remind ourselves that there are other things in life that are more important, is something I can totally get behind.

It is a practice that is nondenominational, and found in just about every religion in one way or another, and it does not even need to be religious at all or even limited to this time of year. It is just something to think about implementing from time-to-time along the journey to the best version of you.

This year the start of the Lenten Season, Ash Wednesday, falls on Valentine's Day, February 14th. Here are some ideas of things to give up for Lent, if you choose to do so. (And, remember, it's only for 40 days ... unless you choose to make it a permanent change!)
  • Eating meat
  • Chocolate or your favorite food
  • Coffee
  • Sugar or creamer in your coffee
  • Sugar or sweets
  • Soda
  • Snacking between meals
  • Eating out for lunch
  • Alcohol
  • Video games
  • Shopping
  • Laziness
  • TV
  • Sex
  • Gossip
  • Sarcasm
  • Complaining
  • Swearing
  • Favorite (but annoying) words or phrases like: "Bae," "I can't even" / "No puedo," "Awesome," "Dude," etc.
  • Using the word “can’t”
  • The word "No"
  • Casting blame
  • Driving
  • Checking your phone more than once an hour
  • Social media
  • The news (trust me!)
  • Spoons and forks (use chopsticks, instead)
  • Your comfortable bed (use a sleeping bag on the floor, instead)
  • Hot water in the shower (to remind ourselves of those who do without)
  • Elevators and escalators (stairs only)

Good luck with your commitment!

Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

Romancing Your Life
Setting the scene to fall in love with your own life.
Romantic Foods
Something special ...
The Romance of Travel
Falling in love with a new destination, adventure, and new vistas.
Who Really Needs An Egg Plate?
Not me.  But I'm probably going to buy one anyway!
What's Your Favorite Cake?
If only I could pick just one!
Spring Cleaning
Tackling and taming the clutter.
Never On The "1st" Date
Laying the groundwork for the success of your goals and resolutions.
Top Chef - Colorado
A celebrity in the family!

New Year's Resolutions
A list of fun things to look forward to in the year ahead!
A Fresh Start
Healthful smoothies to begin the year off right!
A Tale of Two Bread Puddings
So different, yet both so good!
My sister's non-profit, Healing Warriors Program, gives away a donated state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
How It All Began
The very beginnings of Afternoon Tea.
A Very Foodie Town
It's almost time for Restaurant Week again!
Pear Tart, Part Deux
There's a time for rustic, and a time for elegant.
Salty Sweets
Finishing salts on your dessert.

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