For Christians, Lent began today, Ash Wednesday.
Lent is the period of 40 days prior to Easter. For many Christians, Lent prompts the question, “What are you giving up?”
Traditionally, one gave up a luxury item or practice, which presumably distracts one from God, and in the modest suffering caused by abstinence approximates the suffering of Jesus.
Lent has traditionally meant abstaining from meat but it can be any luxury. Lent has never been about abstaining from something necessary or intrinsically good.
You’ll often hear of someone giving up alcohol for Lent. No one gives up water.
Lent is for the benefit of the believer, not the believed. It doesn’t help God.
This year, instead of giving something up, what about taking something up?
Look at that big pile of “should” (say it aloud) in your home, heart, and/or mind, and start to reduce it. Just for 40 days, do some of the things that you know are better than what you have been doing.
Spend 40 minutes per day, every day, on them. That’s the challenge.
When behaviorists talk about changing a behavior, we talk about finding a replacement for it, something that serves the same function (get something that you want, escape something that you don’t want, or release of emotions) as what you want to replace.
The replacement behavior also has to be at least as effective and efficient as the behavior that it’s intended to replace.
Change is hard enough but if you attempt to replace something easy and successful with something difficult and uncertain, you probably won’t be able to stick with it.
The human mind is a goal-seeking machine. It seeks an end state, a destination. The mind doesn’t work in reverse.
When you stand on a ladder, inevitably someone will yell, “Don’t look down!” with a predictable result. Your goal-seeking mind can’t hear the negative and so you look down. If that person actually wanted to help you, instead of scaring you, then the yell would be, “Keep looking up!”
Your mind can’t hear, “Don’t eat that doughnut!” but it can hear, “Eat an apple!” under the same conditions when you’d eat a doughnut, and the conditions have to be the same for the replacement to work.
The apple has to serve the same function as the doughnut, and it’s probably not really hunger.
If you’re still bent on the traditional “give something up” approach then consider the fact that days during Lent are still only 24 hours. The time that you spend on the new behavior has to come out of what you used to spend on the old behavior.
Spring is coming, when everything will begin to grow. Weeding is good but pointless unless you also plant, so what you want crowds out what you don't want.
The Book of Romans calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
For Lent this year, for 40 minutes each day over 40 days, take something up rather than give something up. It will benefit you and everyone around you.