Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent, a time of fasting and prayer leading up to Holy Week and Easter. Jesus went into the desert for forty days to fast and pray before he began his public ministry. Likewise, Catholics spend these forty days praying and fasting in preparation for Easter.
I remember when I was teaching an 8th grade confirmation class a few years back we began to discuss Lent and the practice of giving something up. Most of the kids saw this is something silly…why would giving up chocolate or pop or abstaining from meat make any difference? And in a way, they’re right. Simply giving something up just because it’s Lent without giving it a second thought isn’t the point. The whole point is to find something you take pleasure in, and go without it as a sacrifice. Certainly a small sacrifice compared to the one our Savior made for us, but a sacrifice nonetheless. And not only to give it up, but to recognize the physical absence of something and to use that recognition as a reminder of the holy season of Lent.
I encouraged my 8th grade class to think of giving up not just something physical, like a food, but to give up a practice. I asked my class if they thought they could give up sin for forty days. It sounds silly and most of them rolled their eyes at me, but then we began to discuss this further. Jesus spent forty days in the desert fasting and praying and resisting temptation. Jesus then paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. And yet even with that knowledge, how easy it is for us to give into temptation and sin against our God. I challenged my 8th grade students to focus on one behavior and try to alter it during the course of Lent. And not to continue the behavior once Lent is over, but to continue avoiding it as a changed lifestyle.
This year for Lent, that is what I am attempting to do. I am giving up a physical sacrifice so that I notice something missing and am reminded of the season we are in. This will be a reminder that as I sacrifice something so small, I should be remembering the sacrifice Christ made for us. But I also wanted to make a lifestyle change. A change in behavior. I am certainly not perfect and would be the first to admit that I fall into temptation and sin just like everyone else. I consider myself to be a fairly positive person. Even so, it can be so easy to fall into the trap about complaining about a co-worker, a new policy change, traffic, weather, the list goes on and on. And when we are around someone who is complaining, typically it brings us down too. It can be a contagious behavior. So for the next forty days, I am going to work on becoming a more positive person. I am giving up complaining. When things get frustrating, I am going to try my very best to see the bright side in the situation and focus on that. To say a prayer asking for Jesus to assist me in my day. And not to complain about anything! My goal through this is to become a brighter light. Jesus says we are the light of the world. Well, it’s very hard to shine Christ’s light when we focus on negativity! So by maintaining a positive attitude, I hope to share Christ’s light with more people. I’m sure it will be difficult, especially as things get hectic during our busiest time at work. But I also hope that the more I work at it, the easier it will become, until it is less of a challenge and more of a lifestyle.