Weâ€™re over two weeks in, and the fact that youâ€™re reading this post alone means that youâ€™re probably still doing pretty good. All too often, however, we get busy, we let our commitment slide here and there, and all the sudden itâ€™s Holy Week and we had forgotten it was lent at all. How can we stay committed? How can we not only make it through the season, but really thrive in our fast?
1. Be Specific
The greatest enemy of the Catholic fast is the abstract fast. All of us have done this at one point in time.
Weâ€™ve all tried to be â€œnicer to peopleâ€ for Lent one time or another. If youâ€™re trying to be more grateful, nicer, or more joyful this Lent, stop right now. At the end of lent, how do you know if you have succeeded or failed at becoming â€œmore joyful?â€ If this question is not practically answerable, then youâ€™re not going to bear any fruit.
In all other areas of our life, we generally understand that without specific goals, change is all but impossible, but sometimes in the spiritual life we forget this fact.You would never go to your financial advisor and say: â€œI want to be more wealthy,â€ and leave it at that. You would never go to your physical trainer and say â€œI want to be healthier,â€ and stop there. The obvious follow up question is â€œwhat does that mean to you? Do you want to pay off your credit card debt? Do you want to loose 15lbs? Be specific, and the more specific the better. Your lenten fast needs to be quantifiable to be achievable.
Bad: I want to be more grateful this lent.
Good: Every morning at 7am Iâ€™m going to fill a page in my journal with things Iâ€™m grateful for.
2. Be Creative
We just really arenâ€™t motivated by goals that arenâ€™t big and hard and exciting. In order to bear fruit with our fast, our fast should be creative enough to really make us want it. If we donâ€™t want to forget about our fast, it should be something that alters our lifestyle, something new, something fresh. When we look forward to easter and imagine ourselves offering our lenten sacrifice to Jesus, we should be genuinely excited about what it is that we are doing. Giving up chocolate for the third time is just honestly not that motivating for most of us.
Write a new lenten bible verse on your bathroom mirror every week using dry erase marker. Memorize your verse each week.
Give up your bed and sleep on the floor.
Invest in community. Invite a family from your church over for dinner or a new parishioner out to coffee each week.
Instead of saying â€œIâ€™ll pray for you,â€ and forgetting to do it, ask if you can pray for that person right then and there.
Whatever it is that you do, make it really worth the effort.
3. Go Deep
Generally everyone agrees that full immersion is the best way to learn a language. It is also true that what we think about directs our actions. It naturally follows that to be successful with our fast this Lent, we need to immerse ourselves in the things of heaven. We should take every opportunity to read, listen, speak, drink, eat, and breathe the things of God. This sort of immersion approach to Lent keeps Christ as our mindâ€™s focal point. It also keeps our fast always in our minds eye as well. Often times, our sacrifices do not touch our lives with enough frequency to demand consistent focus. If you are giving up sweets, how often do you have to make a decision to resist eating sweets? Twice a day, maybe? Experience tells us that this is not enough to affect real change in a habit. Weâ€™ll forget, eat that snickers bar, and remember 10 minutes later that we just broke our lenten commitment. Lent needs to be in front of us all the time.
Fr Michael Schmidt
4. Donâ€™t get too Crazy
This tip will only be important to that select group of people who heard about that whole â€œsackcloth and ashesâ€ thing and looked to see how much sackcloth cloths cost on ebay.
When I was in seminary and in a particularly fervent state of youthfulness, I decided to give up my eyesight for lent. Yes. My eyesight. I didnâ€™t wear my glasses or contacts unless I absolutely had to. I lasted two weeks. I lasted two weeks because of that clause â€œabsolutely had to.â€ I found that eyesight was absolutely necessary for quite a few things. I donâ€™t recommend trying this. Some things just arenâ€™t realistic, As Christ taught his disciples: â€œFor which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?â€ (Luke 14:28) Count the cost of your lenten sacrifice. Is it something that you realistically can do? Maybe signing up for five 3am adoration slots at the perpetual adoration chapel is a tad on the â€œprobably not going to happenâ€ side.
5. Donâ€™t Trust Yourself
Itâ€™s time to get real, people. Self discipline is not a thing. Human beings respond to incentives; we seek comfort and flee pain. Your will power is not strong enough to fight this pattern without getting tricky. Often times the secret to pushing through the discomfort of a painful but necessary good is making the alternative far more punishing. To give you guys an idea of how this works, let me tell you about my friend Chris.
Chris once decided that he was going to stop smoking for Lent. He had tried unsuccessfully to quit 6 times before this attempt. This time he went 40 days without a cigarette. What was his secret? He took pictures of himself in his underwear, gave them to me and told me to post them the second he took a drag. As uncomfortable as giving up smoking was, it would have been far more uncomfortable to have to explain the underwear pictures on his Facebook page. One needs only to read the wikipedia article on loss aversion to know that it is a far more powerful psychological incentive than the desire for gain. Use this to your advantage. You donâ€™t have to be like my friend Chris and risk public humiliation, but build some consequences into your fast. What happens if you fail to keep it? If you REALLY want to go for it, make sure those consequences are administered by a friend. This brings me to the next important fruit bearing secret:
Part of the amazing plan that Christ has for his family is this thing called accountability. In Christian community, weâ€™re not supposed to hide our failures and insecurities from one another. Weâ€™re actually supposed to open them up, because it is through this intentional, transparent community that we experience the love of Christ and freedom from shame. This is the message of 1 John 1: â€œGod is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.â€ This is the hardest, scariest secret of bearing fruit. You know that if you let people in, youâ€™re going to get pruned. But thatâ€™s why this is the most effective, most necessary secret of them all. So share your specific plan with a close friend or your spouse, tell them what your consequences should be if you fail to keep your commitment, and keep them updated on your progress daily. Do this and you will see fruit. There is no doubt.
7. Make it About Relationships
As Paul writes in 1st Corinthians: â€œIf I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.â€ (1 Cor 13: 2) All of our Lenten fasts are worthless if they do not produce love, and what is love without other people TO love? That is the fruit we seek: Love. Love, to the Christian is not a feeling or an abstract concept. To love means to serve, to care for, to honor, to affirm, to build up. Love is found in our relationships with each other, because it is an action that involves another. This is why accountability is so important to the Christian walk, because it involves bringing another person into the equation. In doing so, you love by trusting that ally, and give them the opportunity to love by calling you to holiness. Christ told the disciples to test those who speak in his name. He said: â€œBy their fruit you will know them.â€ Matthew 7:16. The same is true of your Lenten fast. If your lenten fast is simply about self improvement and not about bearing fruits of love, as St Paul says, you gain nothing. So lets bear some fruit over the rest of these 40 days, my friends. Letâ€™s bear the fruit of repentance.
Blog By Marcellino D’Ambrosio
Twin brothers Marcellino and Anthony are youth
speakers and media gurus with their ministry,
The Crossroads Pursuit. Visit their website to learn more.