I grew up in “Holy Catholic Ireland” and as children the done thing was to give up sweets (candy) for Lent.
There was no personal choice in the matter for us. We didn’t deliberate about what kind of sacrifice we might like to make. It was simply decreed (in my family, anyway) that there would be no sweets for Lent. If guests came to visit and brought us sweets or chocolate as a gift, we put them in a jar or tin—saving them for St. Patrick’s Day (when we got a reprieve) and Easter Sunday. (Between our stash and our Easter eggs, Easter Sunday was a glorious pig-out day.)
As soon as I was old enough to be permitted to make my own decisions on such matters, I turned my back on Lent—along with all things I perceived to be religious dogma. And as an adult I inwardly scoffed at any friends who continued to give up some kind of treat to mark this religious period. (I’m not proud of my scorn.)
But life goes on and in my thirties I found myself working as a life coach. This was a valuable period in my life when I shifted many (not all) stubborn patterns and perspectives. And during this time I began to look at Lent as a potential gift.
Instead of viewing the 40 days and 40 nights as a time of sacrifice to be performed as some sort of penance, I started to see it as an opportunity to harness a collective energy to do something differently. While it doesn’t pack quite the same punch as January for inspiring a “new-year, new-you, can-do” attitude, Lent is a time when a great many people worldwide make a concerted effort to change a habit.
And there’s power in collective energy.
For those who do “do something” for Lent, I’ve often observed a much greater committment than most people have towards their New Year’s resolutions. And I’ve seen people renew their resolutions at Lent and fare much better with them than they did in the cold, bleak days of January.
And while New Year’s resolutions aren’t my bag, in recent years I’ve found myself embracing the Lent thing.
I’m in the strictly non-religious camp—this isn’t about sacrifice for me. (I don’t like the word “sin” and I prefer to atone for any wrong-doing by improving my behaviour rather than punishing myself.)
I’m using this time to practice a little extra self-care and improve my wellbeing. Rather than doing something in honor of any external God, I do it in honor of my own Self and my highest potential. I believe that in order to offer the best of myself to the world, I need to continually evolve into becoming my Best Self. And my revised perspective on Lent is to treat it as a perfect time to support that process.
Whether it’s to stop doing something unhealthy, or to start doing something that will have a positive impact, I’ve come to see Lent as an opportune time to change my habits. Some years I let it go by without making any special effort, but on those years when I do choose to “do something”, my intention is always held around the 40 day period and not beyond—a strong advantage I think Lent holds over new year resolutions.
I use Lent to ring-fence a period of time when I will do something that—I believe at the time—will improve my life in some way. I treat it as an experiment, with the hope that it will improve my approach to a given aspect of my life during and beyond Lent. But I never take a dogmatic, “should” approach—I do the best I can for the period and see how things evolve in my day-to-day life aterwards. In this way, I am careful not to put too much pressure on myself to achieve “life-changing” results from the process.
This year, I am doing the Lent thing.
I’ve decided to set myself some boundaries around the internet and get off my laptop by 8:00 p.m. every evening. I spend most of the hours of my day—and a quite a few most evenings—on my laptop, usually online. If I’m reading, I’m typically using the Kindle app on my tablet. But that too has the glare of the laptop screen, not to mention the internet at the ready with a mere tap of my finger.
I don’t think this is healthy for me and I’d like to reduce the time I’m spending online—I’m needing to wear my glasses more and more and my mind is busier than I’d like at bedtime. So, for me, Lent is an opportunity to impose some strict boundaries for a while, with a view to lessening my tolerance to being online all day every day by the time Easter rolls around. We shall see how that pans out.
If I manage to complete this experiment successfully, I will have created two to three hours several evenings a week to read (the pile of unread—printed—books beside my bed), study, write (long-hand) and even watch a TV program with my full attention—instead of with one eye and one ear while the rest of my attention scrolls through my facebook feed.
I could knit, cook and freeze meals for the week ahead, do yoga or even discover a new passion. Or I could just sit in front of the fire with the cat on my lap and simply relax. As I think about freeing up my time I’m starting to get excited. Roll on Ash Wednesday—I’m curious to see where this Lent might bring me.
Author: Hilda Carroll
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo via Flickr