SummaryAndrew Murphy suggests a new approach to Lenten penances. Instead of giving up a bad habit or something like chocolate for 40 days, give up it up forever!
If you’re anything like me, Lent is probably a time when you give up chocolate and other junk food, maybe even TV, and possibly feel annoyed for having to do so.
However, we manage put up with these sacrifices, because when Easter comes around, we can have as much chocolate, junk food, and TV as we want. I mean, we have to make up for those lost 40 days, don’t we?
Going without TV, junk food, the Internet, Facebook (those who have it), and other such things for 40 days can seem like a massive challenge, so massive, perhaps, we fall back on something easier – like chocolate. But what good do these Lenten fasts really do us? Is there even any point?
Sure, cutting down on the junk food you eat might help you to be a little healthier (for those 40 days), and watching less TV frees up time for more important things, but is there any lasting value in giving up these things for such a short while?
What is the point of fasting, anyway?
Why the Fast?
The point of making ourselves go without food or something else we like for a certain period (fasting) is to strengthen our will. So, if we have trouble giving up something small (like chocolate) for 40 days, and then have as much as we want when that time is up, have we done anything to strengthen our will? Probably not.
A while back, I saw an old episode of Mother Angelica Live (from 2000), and she suggested we should try something different, something that could make a lasting difference in our lives. Instead of giving up something temporarily, she said we should give up something forever!
What did she mean by this? She meant that, during Lent, we should try to make ourselves a better person by giving up sin. The way we could do this is to pick a sinful habit (or vice) that we have and try to put a stop to it. If we have a bad temper, we could give up our temper for Lent and do our best not to get angry at others during those 40 days.
They say it takes around 21 days to create a habit; Lent (if we include the Sundays) gives us double that time to make a good habit. We commit sins because of a lack of will power. We do things we shouldn’t because we aren’t strong enough to resist.
So, the way to overcome our weaknesses is to strengthen our will. The penance we do in Lent is meant to be hard, and there’s probably nothing harder than detaching ourselves from a sin we are in the habit of committing.
The Seven Deadly Enemies
Pride, Envy, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth. The Seven deadly sins are called deadly for a reason. If we let them get the best of us, they can be deadly to our spiritual wellbeing. So, let’s not let them get the best of us.
If you struggle with pride, anger, eating too much, laziness, time-wasting, or whatever else, why not use this Lent as a time to break that bad habit or vice. Think of a vice as an enemy that overcomes you because you aren’t strong enough to drive it back.
During this Lent, train yourself against this weakness so next time you battle, you’re the one who comes out on top.
Practice Makes Perfect
One way to do this could be to create a Lenten journal in which you track your progress. Instead of simply having an idea in your head of which bad habit you are trying to overcome, it might help to write something down.
You could begin by writing which vice you think you struggle with the most, and then you could think about what situations you find usually lead to it rearing its ugly head. At the end of each day, you could write a few notes of how you think you did and how you could improve.
For example, if you often get in trouble for fighting with a sibling, think about what is usually happening before the fight begins. Do you have disagreements about certain ways of doing things, or do you get annoyed by some particular habit they have?
If so, you could write it down and then be on the lookout, so when it seems like an argument is about to flare up, you can pause for a moment and think. Is it necessary to do it my way, or do I just want to because I like mine better? Or, do I really need to let myself get upset by what they are doing? Can’t I just ignore it?
Being aware of what usually leads us to commit sin, be it big or small, is one of the best ways to avoid the sin.
Before bed, you could go over the events of the day in your head, particularly relating to the specific vice you are trying to overcome, and think about how you did. If you failed to achieve your goal, don’t worry; its takes time and effort to break a bad habit.
You could make some notes of what you think you did well and where you slipped up, so you can begin the next day even more prepared.
It doesn’t have to be negative, either. Instead of simply trying not to get into fights with your sibling, you could do something positive with them, like offering to play a game they enjoy, even if you would rather do something else.
It is rather hard to fight with someone always making an effort to be nice to you.
Not Just 40 Days and Nights
Even if you haven’t been able to give up your chosen bad habit by the end of Lent, at least you will have taken steps in the right direction. They might seem like small steps, but they are steps you can continue to take, not just through the 40 days of Lent, but throughout the rest of the year.
Make this Lent different from all others by giving up something forever. Make it a time of positive spiritual growth…or you could just give up chocolate (again).