As a Catholic girl, I have observed the season of Lent every year for as long as I can remember. I remember going to a Catholic school, and on Ash Wednesdays, my classmates and I would always want to go to the priest that would apply the least amount of ashes to our foreheads. I remember always giving something up for Lent, usually chocolate or some other sweet that I knew I could do without because I would replace it with something else equally as tasty. I remember going to Mass on Holy Thursday and Good Friday with all of the stand up/sit down rituals. And I remember goign to Easter Sunday Mass in a pretty new dress, but even more than that, I remember the Easter picnics that followed said religious services.
I never really spent much time as a child reflecting on what Lent really meant, but as an adult, I would always make the decision to make the time useful and to grow spiritually for the 40 designated days of Lent. Although Lent is typically known as a spiritual journey, I think that what I’ve learned this year can serve as a lesson for anyone:
1.) You gain a lot when you deny yourself.-Like I said, for as long as I could remember, I have given something up for Lent. This year, I gave up junk food-goodbye chips, cookies, candy, ice cream, etc. I can’t believe how many times I’ve been tempted. I’ll admit that I was pretty pumped up about getting rid of artificial foods during the first few days. I was eating a lot healthier. Instead of grabbing a bag of chips or a cookie, I was literally eating out of a bag of spinach, making homemade dressing and all that jazz. It was great! I was so on a roll that I even decided that I was going to start exercising for the sake of my health, too. This went on for a good two weeks before I started to get grumpy. Man, I wanted that Oreo, and I would have paid big money for just ONE kettle chip without any guilt. But every time one of those treats was just inches from my lips, I told myself: Wait. You gave this up for Lent! Then I would ask Why did I give this up for Lent? I’d answer myself: Because Jesus died for my sins. And instead of eating that cookie or that potato chip, I’d get a banana and feel pretty good about myself. And I came to the realization that every time I put something bad into my body, it was less space for something good. It’s the same way for my spiritual health. All the bad juju that I accept takes up so much space that I don’t have any room for anything good. So, rather than just giving something up, I realize that this time is also a period to allow ourselves to replace all that negativity with positivity.
2.) Forgiveness is powerful-One of my biggest downfalls is that I hold grudges. I don’t forgive people easily, and if I do forgive them, I don’t forget. And sometimes it’s not just forgiving people after they’ve done some thing wrong that makes for a better person, it’s learning to accept them as they are without becoming bitter. Civil rights leader, John Lewis, said that when he was learning the ropes of civil disobedience, he was told that if he and his fellow protesters pictured the people who were tormenting and beating them as innocent babies, then they would truly be living the movement and “loving the hell out of them.” Imagine that. Everyone, at one point, is completely innocent, and if we can see them in that form, then it becomes easier to forgive. In a recent homily, my parish priest said, “He who seeks revenge should dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself.” I believe that the art of forgiveness will be one of the greatest struggles of my life, but I will not let the desire to get revenge on people who have wronged me be the death of me.
3.) When juxtaposed with problems of others, your own petty issues are just that–petty.-So what if I wanted a bag of chips or an Oreo cookie! Someone somewhere would give anything to have one of those healthy pieces of fruit that I ate instead. So what if I’m hungry from fasting. Truth be told, I’ll get to eat as much as I want within 24 hours. So what if my computer has a burned out motherboard and it takes me 2 months to get it repaired. I’ll get it back eventually, and I can always use my work computer if I need to. Someone somewhere won’t get that privilige…Ever.
More than anything, I feel like this Lenten season has taught me how to appreciate what I have and how to fill myself with things and people that are more worthwhile to my physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual health. And the best part is that there’s ten more days to go.