Lent is a great time to grow in one’s faith and there are tons of ways one can make Lent more fruitful. However, since most often, the penances we adopt during Lent don’t stick on after Easter, I wanted to present a set of challenges to those who really want to grow as disciples of Jesus. My hope is that you will read this article and make a resolution that will help you change for the better, beyond just the Lenten season. Try it. Count up the cost of discipleship in your life and bite the bullet this Lent.
Here are 3 suggestions for deeper resolutions to draw closer to God:
1. Resolve to drop a bad habit
If you need to rationalize some area of your life, chances are, you probably need to drop it. Some things can be judged to be right from wrong easily. Others fall into grey areas that call for a bit of introspection. But often, we don’t really make an effort to do so. In some cases, these areas in our lives have been justified and rationalized by us for so long, that we may no longer even realize that it’s something we need to look at. The most common example I hear about (and I must confess that I too used to be guilty of this), is the watching of inappropriate TV shows and movies, because “I usually skip the bad scenes,” or because we feel that we’ve been around the block enough times that a little nudity or a few brief sex scenes don’t really bother us. If you find that you’re often telling yourself that you watch a TV show for its plot and that its explicit content is just incidental, you my friend, should take a good hard look at yourself.
It’s the little things. To some people it can also be the music they listen to (particularly if it’s peppered with vulgar or foul lyrics), or it could be a nasty habit like cursing or gossip. Another area in our lives that’s often rationalized is spending way too much time and money grooming ourselves or buying clothes and accessories.
Sometimes hard decisions also need to be made, such as letting go of a friend who is a bad apple, especially if they’re changing you a lot more than the other way around. We often believe that we have a handle on such things. We think up a good enough reason to convince ourselves that what we’re doing is alright or at least morally neutral. If we’re not careful, these little things can eventually drag us down and cause a major dent in our spiritual lives.
2. Resolve to forgive someone
Over the course of our lives, all of us experience some hurt or pain at the hands of strangers or loved ones. In some cases, these come through really serious situations, and in other cases, it is a result of a prolonged period of friction between us and a loved one who’s treated us badly over the years. What this leads to is unforgiveness that festers deep in our systems and becomes held together by a cocktail of grudges, anger and resentment. Lent is a great opportunity to change all that. Forgiving someone is a decision we make. It is not dependent on our feelings nor does it mean that we forget all those negative experiences overnight. But rather than wallowing in unforgiveness, regularly feeling angry or hurt because of someone else’s actions, we can do something about it. Lent gives us 40 days to look at an issue from every perspective and hopefully bring us some much-needed closure.
Forgiveness brings freedom, peace and joy that allow us to overcome the obstacle that unforgiveness is to our spiritual growth. Back in high school, I was often picked on by some of my classmates, who didn’t realize the effect that their constant taunts were having on me. In fact, at the time, I didn’t fully recognize those effects, myself, and even presumed that with time, I had moved on from my hurt and anger. It was only a few years ago that I realized that it was all still there and had affected me deeply. I had just shelved it away. I had to make an intentional choice to re-open that chapter in my life and deal with it. Forgiving someone is not so much to help the person who is being forgiven, as much as it is to benefit you, the forgiver. Some of us enjoy stewing in our anger and resentment because we’ve done so for a really long time. We’ve habituated it. Those who indulge in such behavior should look at things this way: unforgiveness is like drinking a glass of poison and hoping the other person dies. If you have trouble forgiving someone, check this video out and then prayerfully resolve to forgive someone this Lent:
3. Resolve to put yourself third
Put God first, others second and yourself third. I wish I could claim to have come up with that line, but, alas, it came from someone else before me. To me, the phrase sums up the two great commandments that the Lord gave us: to love God and neighbor (in that order). Lent can be a great time to train oneself to start living out these commandments. Put God first. That means focusing on your relationship with God a bit more. This could be with strengthening (or starting) your daily personal prayer time. Or it could be through attending Mass and Confession more often, or building a habit of visiting Jesus in Adoration. Putting others before yourself can start off with something as simple as spending time with a younger sibling, and for instance, letting them pick the TV show that they want to watch, rather than one that you want (ok that’s a start, but don’t pat yourself on the back too much for that small sacrifice).
Besides fasting and abstinence, Lent is also a time for us to give alms to those in need. Give away the extra clothes and stuff in your room – you’ll be surprised at the stuff you hardly use and don’t really,need. You can also go over your budget and trim away all the excess spending on avoidable stuff (and then promptly give that to charity). To those who really want to commit to putting God and others before them, give away not just from your excess, but give of yourself till it hurts. That means more of your time and more of the stuff you hold dear to you. Remember what Jesus said: “If anyone wishes to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).
The point is: make this Lent count for something meaningful. Giving up chocolates, alcohol or social media is all great, but how far does that help you grow as a disciple? Count the cost of your discipleship and pay it this Lent, by weeding out the one area in your life that has been there for far too long and needs to go.