Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent in the Christian tradition. Growing up I remember Lent as a season of deprivation. Like many other Christian families, we carried on the tradition of giving up something for the 40 days of Lent – something that might not be the best for us but nonetheless brought pleasure. This sacrifice is meant to accompany a period of purity and enlightenment in preparation for the Easter holiday.
For many modern folks, including myself, the common sacrifice is something of the edible variety. Over the years I have given up everything from sweets to burgers to sodas to alcohol. But I can’t help but wonder – does giving up favorite foods really bring me any closer to purity and enlightenment? And what’s the point of giving something up for 40 days anyway?
Lent conveniently falls a couple months after New Years, well after many of us have fallen off the wagon with our well intentioned New Years resolutions. It’s a great opportunity to re-evaluate where we are with the ambitious goals we set to start the year. If we’ve gone off track, using the six weeks of lent to refocus our efforts and give up a bad habit or adopt good one lets us punch the reset button. We now have a measurable amount of time to work towards a specific goal.
The season of Lent also just happens to coincide with the the beginnings of spring – a season of rebirth and renewal. As we breathe in the fresh air of this new and beautiful season, we can breathe out our stale complacency by challenging ourselves to give up something significant. Think of it as spring cleaning.
But why the 40 days?
Though there are many biblical reasons, I don’t think that Lent should be limited to Christians. Across numerous faith traditions, 40 days is shown to be a spiritually significant amount of time. In both Judaism and Christianity, the great flood was said to be the result of 40 days of rain. Buddha achieved enlightenment after meditating under a tree for 40 days while Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days in preparation for God’s mission. And the ancient Egyptians believed that it took 40 days for the soul to be delivered from the body after death.
Beyond the spiritual and historical perspective, 40 days proves to be significant in a psychological sense. Psychologist claim that it takes on average 21-30 days to form a new habit. Since I’m a slow learner, 40 days seems the perfect amount of time to cultivate a better habit by giving up a vice.
Still, am I really going to accomplish much by giving up chocolate? Probably not, so this year I’d like to give up something that will truly benefit my spiritual health. There are many habits I could get rid of or adopt to grow my soul, but since Lent is about being able to consistently stick with it for 40 long days, I decided on just two:
1. Giving up Ingratitude – Gratitude has been linked time and again to happiness and positivity, so it’s probably time I stop being an ingrate in my daily life. I’d like to be more mindful and not take the simple daily blessings for granted. To accomplish this I’m starting a gratitude journal to record 3 things daily for which I am grateful.
2. Giving up Excuses – This is a broad one, so to keep it realistic I decided to narrow it down and focus on giving up excuses for writing. I long to be a great, or at least consistent, writer, yet I so often find myself making excuses for why I can’t write that day, then the next and the next – not enough time, I don’t have a good subject, someone else already wrote about it, etc. If I want to accomplish anything as a writer, making excuses is a habit I really need to kick and just get down to writing. To thwart the excuses I have committed to writing something new every single day. While I won’t post everything, my hope is that urging myself to write even just a few sentences daily will help me produce more and better content – finding my own truth through words.
Are you giving up anything for Lent? Will you join me on either of these challenges? I’d love to know!