A Positive Spin on Lent

No, not LINT. LENT.

Today is Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Also known in England and Ireland (and probably all of Europe) as Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day. Worldwide, people celebrate today by stuffing our faces with a ridiculous amount of food (and sometimes alcohol), because tomorrow is International Catholic Extreme Restriction for 40 Days.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It’s the 40 days before Easter, and most people in the Catholic church use this time to “give up” something they enjoy, like sweets, or dessert. Some may give up alcohol for the 40 days. Others give up cursing, gossiping, or watching television.

The idea of giving something up for Lent symbolizes Jesus’ sacrifice during his 40 days in the desert. So, Catholics fast, do penance, and up the ante on their prayers and charity during the season. They celebrate the ending of Lent with Easter. And when I was a kid, boy did I celebrate! I ate my weight in Reese’s peanut butter cups, Hershey’s chocolate, and jelly beans.

But here’s the thing about Lent, guys. It’s 40 days. The absolutely perfect time frame to develop a habit.

Why “give something up” for 40 days, and focus on “punishing yourself” when you could use this time to develop a healthy and beneficial habit?

In 2015 I was able to quit smoking because I changed my mentality from “I gave up smoking” to creating a healthier, better habit in place of smoking. I still don’t tell people “I quit smoking”, even after four years. When asked, I tell people I haven’t smoked in X amount of years. (I must say, in 2018, during my extensive dental procedures, I did find out smoking, for me personally, will have a detrimental effect on my teeth and gums. Not as in staining my teeth, as in LOSING my teeth. That’s a pretty strong deterrent, but I still don’t tell people I “quit smoking”).

Quitting is for quitters. Giving up something is focusing on the negative, viewing the act as a punishment, and reinforces the longing to have said activity, item, or food in which you are refusing to partake. I know, I know, that’s the point of Lent, to punish ourselves. But what if? WHAT IF, God didn’t want us to PUNISH ourselves? WHAT IF we could use Lent to focus on ways to service the community, and discover a better version of ourselves? Wouldn’t that also make God happy?

Again, I am not a very religious person. So, I don’t really have a spiritual reason to practice Lent. But this year, I am going to do it to prove my point. That I can “give up” an unhealthy habit for 40 days (and beyond), not by focusing on what I am refraining from, but by replacing it with a healthier habit.

For me, my habit I am instilling for me is to do 5 minutes of cardiovascular exercise before I start writing. It can definitely be more than five minutes, but it has to take place within 30 minutes of me starting my deep work time. So, my workout at 2 pm with Chris, and then a shower, and then dinner will not count. I can do burpees, row on our stationary rower, run flights of stairs, run up to the mailbox and back. It doesn’t matter. Five minutes. Within 30 minutes of finishing, I start my writing.

I have a couple of theories of things which will take place once this habit is instilled.

  1. My creative juices will get flowing after my workout, and my writing will get stronger
  2. I will have less cravings later at night
  3. I will CRAVE my pre-writing workout, however short, and will find time to carve it into my routine.
  4. Soon, 5 minutes won’t be enough, and I will build off the time to increase in intensity and duration.

What other habits can one come up with, to honor the idea of Lent?

There’s building the habit of switching from Starbuck’s coffee to the healthier (and more environmentally sustainable) option of tea. Make your own sweets and treats to refrain from eating Dunkin’ Donuts (and I’ll even provide a few recipes if you are interested). Get healthier, take better care of yourself, and get away from two negative environmental practices- palm oil in processed food (both DD and Starbucks use palm oil), and get away from single use plastics AND deforestation effects from paper products at both fast food establishments. God would be VERY pleased.

Meditate for three minutes every day. Get closer to your Higher Power, and feel more energized and focused all day. It’s a total win-win.

Instead of “giving up” smoking or alcohol, spend the Lenten season exploring healthier and more beneficial ways to deal with stress. The trick I learned was to cook something every time I got a craving. Soon, I didn’t crave a cigarette, I was craving a new recipe. But other stress relief actions could be a 10 minute run/walk/workout, playing frisbee with your dog, a cup of hot chocolate (it’s WAY better than a cigarette, trust me!), a hot bubble bath (I don’t care if you need one every day, or even twice a day on some days, it’s whatever you find to be helpful in dealing with stress or cravings).

Practice a random act of kindness every day- give your latte money to the pan-handler (doesn’t matter what they would spend the money on, just do it), help your neighbor with lawn or house care, spread happy or positive rumors about someone, compliment someone in a truly genuine way.

Think how amazing Easter will be when you are celebrating AND have a new healthy habit developed. What a wonderful Lent it would be.

 

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