Lent is a time many use as a second chance for those New Year’s resolutions they have already broken. It’s a time for cleansing and making new. This year I wanted to make up for an Advent that was less peaceful and prayerful than I had planned. I had hoped to give more time to reading, praying with the daily Mass readings and reflecting on the year. Unfortunately the busyness of the holidays got the better of me and snatched away that hoped-for time.
One of my first goals was to fast from Facebook, a big distraction for me that ends up being a time-waster. But I didn’t want to wait until Lent to begin this fast. I knew that when the Christmas season ended January 13, there would be exactly 30 days of Ordinary Time (a kind of liturgical season between liturgical seasons in the Church). I figured that my desire to fast from something and focus on other things didn’t have to wait for a specific Church season, even if that was Lent’s intent. Ordinary Time seemed perfect given that I wanted my intentionality to be “ordinary” and something to potentially continue after the one month, regardless of the Church calendar.
So, January 14 I deactivated my Facebook account. I’m so used to checking Facebook when I have an empty moment to fill. However it only took a couple days for my body to be trained that this was not an option. This gave me an amazing opportunity to fill that moment with either nothing, and just sit in the space, or something fruitful, like prayer or reading. I even caught up on some letter writing and phone calls.
Without Facebook distracting me to all hours, I was able to go to bed on time most nights, with a few minutes of prayer and reflection time before switching off the light. Just the very act of sacrificing caused me to take note of areas of my life I wanted to improve. One day I felt inspired to give more money than I normally would to a homeless man. Another day I said hi to people I passed on the street (a rarity in the Northeast).
I spent time being more creative with my cooking, something I am usually lazy with on a weeknight. In fact, I found the opportunity to do a dietary cleanse, which entailed removing wheat, meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol from my diet for 10 days. It was a challenge but it opened me up to a new form of mindful eating and even helped me be more in solidarity with my girlfriend who has a gluten allergy. (It’s amazing how many foods have wheat!) I found that I’ve become desensitized a bit to things like sugar and after a few days of caffeine withdrawal symptoms I found a new natural energy — no dragging at 2:30 p.m.!
Now that I’m back to a more normal diet I still find that I’m incorporating what I learned during my cleanse: balancing healthy meals and food variety, resisting unhealthy and needless snacking, even trying to eat more locally. Glorifying God can be done through our actions and this includes how we eat. Saint Ignatius of Loyola even laid out rules for eating like slowing down, planning ahead and eating staple foods that are less prone to overindulgence.
What about Lent?
Sacrifices like these help add depth and introspection to our spiritual lives. We become like “gold refined in fire” as we commonly hear in the Bible. Sacrifice takes us out of the routine we can so mindlessly get into. How often do we just go through the motions? We say a quick prayer before bed, go to Mass on Sundays and come away barely remembering what the readings or homily were, or throw a couple dollars into the collection basket without considering why we’re giving. As if by programming we scroll through our Facebook news feed not truly caring about connecting with our friends, or perhaps we grab that donut just because it’s there.
The problem with Lent is that it has the danger of becoming just another routine, a part of the year we sacrifice and fast, ready to binge when Easter Sunday comes. This is not to say I haven’t mindfully practiced things differently this Lent. It’s just that the same mindfulness going on during Lent needs to spill over to the ordinary times of our life! An Ordinary Time fast confirmed for me that I could be just as intentional outside of Lent as I am during Lent.
The season of Lent obviously has the purpose of recalling Jesus’ 40 days of sacrifice and temptation in the desert before his ministry and eventual death. But when the Resurrection comes, that sacrificial and hopeful spirit should propel us to a deeper mindfulness which can be practiced at all times during the year. If you’re in the middle of a Lenten fast, great! Keep it up! If you haven’t given anything up yet, don’t feel too bad. The fact that you’ve reached the end of this article probably means you’re willing to take on a fast even for a week or a month.
Take a few days to consider what you’d like to give up, change or take on. Then do it! It doesn’t matter when you start or for how long. The important thing is the commitment and the desire for transformation.