So begins the season of Lent. I grew up a non-denominational Christian and had little experience with Lent. In fact, I remember working at a bookstore and wondering why, one particular evening, about a quarter of all our customers had dark crosses smeared on their foreheads. What I learned later on after gaining a few wonderful Catholic friends is that it is a ritual of Ash Wednesday mass in which ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are marked on the believer. It signifies mourning and repentance. Many observers spend the next 46 days until Easter Sunday fasting and praying.
So enough with the history lesson… Why observe this holiday if you’re not religious? A few reasons…
Because it will help you be a better person.
What’s cool about Lent is that it falls just about the time that our New Year’s resolutions have fallen to the wayside. Use Lent as a reminder of all the things you wanted to do to make 2012 a better year. It’s your second chance.
Because grief is good.
Part of Lent observance is mourning. I’m not saying that everyone should go around sad and pitiful for a month and a half, but Lent may be a good time to dig deep into your heart about your losses. One of the biggest issues people don’t even realize that they have is a lack of grief. You lost a job, a spouse, a friend, or even a period of time in your life that you enjoyed is over. Did you properly grieve it? A lot of times, we walk around still carrying the weight of something we’ve lost. Here’s something: Write loss a letter. Whatever it is that you’ve lost, even if it’s not a person, write it a letter. Express how you feel about it and how you miss the good times. Share any hurt or pain its loss has caused… Then throw it away. When you do that, you release yourself from its weight and you can truly move on.
Because repentance means saying, “I’m sorry”.
Lent is a good time to apologize to anyone you’ve wronged. None of us are perfect and we’ve hurt people in our lives. It takes a brave person to admit he or she is wrong. Be that brave person this season.
Because it’s also about forgiveness, and we all need to forgive someone.
Just like you need to apologize, chances are that you also need to forgive someone else’s offenses. It could be a kid who was mean to you in school more than 30 years ago or an ex-spouse who still causes you trouble. It doesn’t matter. Lent is a time of forgiveness, so let go. The bitterness you hold in your heart for that person hurts no one but yourself. Release it this season; make the conscious effort to do so (every day, if you have to).
Because fasting makes you awesome.
Fasting is tough. It bends our will and puts the selfish, chidlish side of us in a corner. It requires self-discipline and a certain strength of character. Not everyone can give up something that they love. But if you really want to see exactly what you’re made up, I challenge you to give up one luxury. Just one. Coffee, Facebook, cookies, swearing, whatever you indulge in. It’s not only a good way to kick a bad habit, but it shows you just how tough you really are.
Because sacrifice is good for the soul.
Many religions (in fact all of the major ones) require and/or advocate fasting. Religions that differ vastly on the creation of the world or morality issues often times agree that sacrifice is good for a human being’s spirit. It expands you somehow on the inside. Why? Because it gives your body and brain a vacation. You get to operate out of something bigger that’s on the inside.
No matter what you believe, Lent is a season for all of us. We can reflect, re-choose, and re-shape ourselves and our futures. Think about it.