We are about a week into the time of year that can be considered a “spring training” for Catholics. Lent is an opportunity for us to imitate Christ by renewing our spiritual discipline prior to the glorious resurrection of our Lord on Easter. The ashes that launch this journey remind us of our own sinfulness and draw us into mourning for our Lord and the price He willingly paid for our salvation. It is an opportunity for renewal.
So, how is that journey going for you so far?!?
It’s easy to see Lent as a time where we simply remove things from our lives that we want, but perhaps do not need. Giving up chocolate (or social media, which seems to be the new chocolate) for forty days and fasting from meat on Fridays can be a recipe for building mild levels of virtue, but how can you turn that voluntary sacrifice into a lasting experience of faith? Relating our Lenten sacrifice and spiritual practices to what brings success to those in addiction recovery can provide some answers. Furthermore, it can offer some encouragement to renew your commitment over the next several weeks, even if you haven’t gotten off to a great start.
A theme has been ringing through what I have heard a lot of people (both addicts and non-addicts) share in some fashion lately. Some version of, “I always told myself that I never wanted to end up like that,” has come out of the mouths of people who did, eventually, turn out like that. It happens without the person realizing it until much later on, when they recognize that the thing they were running from is the thing that has been running them for a long time. Much of it is rooted in fear, which drives our behavior much more than we would like to admit (there is a reason that when we do our fourth-step inventory we dedicate an entire section to our fears).
Constantly reminding yourself of what you are not going to do has never been a strategy that I have seen work out too well. In fact, obsessing over it can have the opposite effect. When the thing we’re trying to remove from our routine is constantly running through our minds, we tend to want it more. We get pulled to it, often without realizing it until it’s too late. Once we do realize it, feelings of shame and unworthiness appear and keep us from believing that we even deserve better. Lost in all of this is the spiritual meaning of Lent in the first place—to unite us with the suffering Christ while shedding our earthly attachments.
Instead of mentally obsessing about that thing you’re looking to give up (whether temporarily or permanently), try shifting your focus on what can be gained. By the grace of God, you have a great opportunity to make a difference in your life and the lives of others. This gift is given to you today, regardless of how well you’ve kept to your Lenten offering or other promises you’ve made to yourself. Have a vision of the best version of yourself and get into action! The Church suggests increased prayer and almsgiving (sharing your resources) through fasting. Here are a few other things that can bring lasting fruit and fullness to your life this Lent:
- Make a commitment to a small support group or bible study
- Dust off the daily devotional you’ve thrown in your desk drawer and commit ten minutes to it each day
- Sponsor someone in recovery or be available to those in your parish that are preparing to receive sacraments during Easter
- Reach out to individuals that you have not heard from in a while
- Replace the radio with prayer during your morning commute
- With money saved from your fast, buy a meal or a household essential for someone less fortunate
- Communicate with others about what they’ve found to be helpful practices and share some of your success in our community forums
Ash Wednesday is not the only day during Lent that allows spiritual growth to begin. At this point, even if you have come up short of the goals you’ve set, it is not too late. Clean house, serve God, help others. A shift in your attitude and approach this Lent can have an impact for the rest of your life… but is best when taken one day at a time.