As fellow Christians (Catholics, Protestants, and even the Orthodox this year) are well aware, last week marked the beginning of Lent. Over the next month and change, the faithful will challenge themselves in unique spiritual, mental, and physical ways. It is common to “give something up for Lent” in addition to fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays. A common critique of how people do Lent is that sometimes we focus too much on giving things up (e.g. not eating sweets) but don’t do anything actively positive (perhaps, for example, using that money you saved by not eating sweets to donate to a charity or take someone out to lunch or something along those lines).
This year, I’m really trying to incorporate all of these ideas for a more fulfilling Lent. Some things I’m trying to consider this year include: no phone/internet after 8:30 pm, cooking more meals at home (been on a cooking kick for a while now), no purchases of anything not immediately necessary (like clothes, for example), and trying to get to two daily masses during the week. We are not even a full week into Lent, and I’m already finding this all very challenging but simultaneously motivating and rewarding.
Challenge is a catalyst of growth. This is true for pretty much anything. You don’t gain muscles unless you lift weights you aren’t totally comfortable with. You don’t learn a foreign language well until you make thousands of mistakes. You can’t play a Liszt sonata without first butchering it countless times. But after subjecting yourself to the daunting and grueling challenge and unpleasantness of attempting something you are initially no good at, the rewards are tremendous. You actually have something tangible to show for yourself, whether that be bigger muscles, a perfectly written French essay, or a flawless concert performance. Undoubtedly, not only do you feel better about yourself for having accomplished something, but you also think of yourself as somehow actually a better version of yourself for it. After reaching a certain level of skill or ability in a given activity, I don’t think anyone yearns for the days before they attained such mastery. After studying Russian in high school for two years, college for four, and living abroad in Moscow, I know I would never want to go back to the days when I had trouble remembering when to use the dative case or basic words like “table” or “family.”
This desire to fulfill personal potential is not unique to only Catholics or Protestants or Orthodox. It actually applies to everyone. Reflecting on this idea, I have decided that the secular world needs to embrace Lent. It already celebrates Christmas/Advent whether they think of it religiously or not. But consider the Christmas season: non-stop annoying music, relentless commercials and materialism, stress and anxiety about buying the right gifts for the right people. Does anyone really enjoy this? I submit no, the secular version of Christmas has been ruined beyond repair and it’s time for a bold, meaningful replacement. I strongly sense that the people of my generation are craving something deeper and productive in their life rather than just recycling the tired cliches of generations gone by.
So to my peers- I think you should all consider what ways you see yourself lacking. This Lent (you haven’t missed that much of it, so it still counts) do something about it. You can’t fill the holes in your life by buying an iPhone or taking a vacation. Those are certainly not bad things to do, but they are useless without a larger context of who you are as an individual and what direction you are going. A scary thing to think about sometimes is how much your individual actions matter, even the ones that nobody knows or sees about. However, if you start today changing even the seemingly smallest and most insignificant of those actions, you might be surprised what kind of positive cascading effect might follow in its wake down the road.