The excesses of Fat Tuesday are but a memory. Ash Wednesday ashes have been washed away. Lent has begun and a majority of Christians have returned to the status quo. Is that all there is, though, until Easter? Really! No, there’s got to be something more!
The imposition of ashes is not my favorite Christian experience of the Church year. It is messy and I don’t like thinking about my mortality—that I am dust and will return to dust. The season of Lent itself can become a little somber and bleak while we obsessively focus on our sins. Lent doesn’t hold a candle to the carols and cookies of Christmas. Still, Christians for hundreds upon hundreds of years have discovered it to be beneficial to ponder the messiness of life, their mortality, and their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. While I have begun my journey towards a sane faith, I hesitate to let go of something that is so deeply engrained in the Christian psyche.
I also know that if I don’t do something special for Lent, Easter will suddenly be upon me. I will look back and regret missing an opportunity to make myself available for the work of the Holy Spirit—God’s presence. At the same time, I really don’t get too excited about accomplishing some empty ritual just so I can say, “I gave up donuts for Lent.”
After giving the subject some thought, prayer and a little “soul searching,” if you will, I have come up with four wholistic habits that I want to cultivate during this season of Lent. I think these four activities will help me grow as a person and mature as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Here’s my list:
I know this doesn’t sound like much, but I think this habit could be life changing. I’ve come to the realization that I grumble words of complaint far more often than I utter words of thanks. This probably wasn’t too surprising to my wife, Faye, but it was for me. This is symptomatic of my perspective on life. I spend more time looking for things to complain about than I do things for which to give thanks. Complaining distorts my image of God, making God to be miserly rather than generous. I like what Zig Ziglar said, “The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more things you’ll have to express gratitude for.” So, rather than wait for God to give me more stuff for which to give thanks, I’m going to start saying, “Thank you,” for what I have.
My plan is simple. When I get up in the morning, I’m going to give thanks for three things in my life. Giving thanks for a laundry list of items probably is too much of a challenge, but I think I can come up with three “thankables.”
I also want to close the day by saying “Thanks” for three happenings, things, or people, which were part of my life that day. Given my days lately, this might be a greater task than I’m capable of, but I think I’m up for the challenge. My hope is that after forty days of saying “Thanks,” saying it will have become a habit. I want to eradicate complaints and replace them with thankgiving—but I’ll settle for changing the ratio of discontent to contentment so that there are more “Thank you’s” than there are “I don’t likes.”
While working on my perspective of life, I also want to nurture my relationships with others. I recently read of a woman who, for her Lenten discipline, writes a card of appreciation each day to someone who is part of her life. These cards are sent to family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. They reach members of the church she attends, her fitness club, and the other organizations of which she’s a part. The list is endless. Several years ago, I read that former President George Bush (the older) writes three notes of appreciation every week, and he has done this for years.
I can only imagine what a blessing that would be for people. We all like to feel appreciated, and if the truth be told, we usually receive more criticisms than we do words of praise. Not only would these words of appreciation have a positive impact on another person’s life, we would also be blessed. It feels good to build other people up rather than putting them down.
So, here’s my plan. I’m going to write a note, make a phone call, or include a positive affirmation in a conversation at least once each day. I’ll probably draw the line at texting. “Gr8 job J” doesn’t quite do it for me.
My goal is to become more aware of how people touch my life in a positive way, and to become freer with my words of appreciation. This would be a good habit to instill in my life over the forty days of Lent and then continue to practice in the days following Easter.
Yes, my perspective on life and God needs to be tweaked, and relationships can always be strengthened. If I’m going to be wholistic in my endeavors, these two areas can’t be my total focus. I need to make a passing glance at the physical side of life, too.
Traditionally, Lent has been a season to give up, or fast from something. Jokingly I have at one time or another given up shrimp (I’m deathly allergic to it) melons (yuck) and brussle sprouts (are they really fit for human consumption?). Once I was successful in giving up chocolate for Lent (a true sacrifice) but this was something that I did not want to become a habit. At 12:01am on that Easter morning I consumed an absolutely scrumptious piece of Godiva Chocolate cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. My challenge was to think of something I could do that would have a lasting, positive impact on my health.
I’m not a great fruit and vegetable guy. I know, though, that this needs to change if I am to continue to enjoy the gift of health. During this season of Lent, I’m going to focus on enjoying five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day—replacing the five to seven servings of sweets that I normally consume. This certainly wasn’t the only health option that I had—the list was almost endless—but this is a positive habit that I believe I can accomplish in the next several weeks.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include some sort of religious element in my wholistic Lenten habits. It’s tempting, though. Pastors tend to think that we have this area covered.
A time for reading the Bible and prayer is already a part of my daily routine. I must confess, though, that this time spent with God often feels one sided. I read the passage of Scripture or devotional thought, but it is rarely an “Aha!” moment. When I pray, I often have a long list of needs—heavily sprinkled with wants and desires—that I share with God. I’m sure God listens, but I really don’t give God a chance to talk much.
So, the wholistic habit that I want to develop during this Lenten season is five minutes of silence. I know this doesn’t sound like much. The experts usually say that a person needs to meditate or contemplate for at least twenty minutes for it to do any good. That’s way too long for me. I may not have ADD or ADHD, but I can’t sit still that long. I’ll start out with five minutes—five minutes of quiet and listening. I really don’t expect to receive any prophetic messages, but I do hope to hear the still small voice of God.
So, what do you think? Would you like to join me in developing these four wholistic Lenten habits or, do you have suggestions for additional habits or replacement habits?
I plan on keeping you posted on my progress on these habits. I hope that you will share with me what you find helpful during the season of Lent.