Lent (or Lenten Season) is a Christian observance of about six weeks, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday, during which, many people fast or give up luxuries to reflect Christ’s sacrifice in the desert for forty days and nights.
To many of us, we remember giving up chocolate for Lent, to be rewarded with chocolate eggs delivered by a bunny. And the act of fasting or sacrifice is an observed tradition in many religions.
Modern day religious practices have changed from the original penances of Christianity, but Lent, as a period of selflessness, charity and faithfulness, can be adapted as an annual check of our respect towards ourselves and each other.
But respect and justice towards ourselves and others does not have to exist through acts of sacrifice. Indeed, for many of us in modern times, we are constantly reminded to make ourselves act selfishly in our own self-interest. Using the time of Lent, as a dedicated set of weeks to change something in our behaviour or lifestyle, can be a way to reintroduce self-care and love into our lives.
Traditionally, Lent recognises three penances:
- Fasting – justice towards ourselves,
- Almsgiving – justice towards our neighbours
- Prayer – justice towards God.
For today’s standard, these can be held in regard, altered to suit us as individuals.
Use Lent as a time to dedicate to your body and mind. For forty days and nights, make yourself drink a set amount of water every day, drink herbal tea at night. Do yoga every day, meditate, journal, use the time to dedicate yourself to reconnecting with yourself. Maybe the ne habits stick, maybe they don’t, but self-respect must be practiced, even if only once a year.
For each other:
Neighbours, family, friends, colleagues, random buskers on the streets. Volunteer for Lent; at homeless shelters, libraries, retirement homes. Make sure every day that you check in with a loved one, that you do something for their wellbeing. Bring them a shell from the beach or buy them a cheap bouquet of their favourite flowers. It might be charity, it might just be love. Use the time to pay attention to the people you care about and the way that you treat them. Nurture your relationships.
For our faith:
Be it god, faith, spirituality. Whether you belong to an organised religion, or meditate, harness the energy of crystals or nature, Lent offers us a unique portion of time to reconnect to our faiths and beliefs. Use the time to dedicate yourself to your spirituality, connect to your community, deities or mother nature.
As we begin to leave winter behind, Lent ushers in spring. New beginnings (excuse my cliché), sunshine on our faces again and we chuck of our heavy coats and bad habits from being stuck inside for so many months. Lent can be used at the steady baby steps into a healthier, happier or more considered way of living for the rest of the year. A way to introduce ourselves, because let’s face it, how many of our New Years’ resolutions actually stuck?
Even if you don’t continue with whatever changes you make or practices you pick up, Lent serves as a time to dedicate yourself to taking steps towards bettering how you act or feel. Giving up chocolate is, annoyingly, good for your health. But so is yoga or swimming, so is drinking healthy juices or smoothies. So is meditation, journaling, taking up a new hobby to see what you make of it. Draw something every day, say something every day to yourself or to others or both; use the annual collection of weeks as a time to re-examine your life and rather than giving something up, start doing something. Start making the changes you want to see in your life.
If you give anything up, give up bad habits, negative thoughts or self–sabotaging behaviour. Give up the things you’re better off without.
And of course, by all means, come Easter Sunday, eat a giant chocolate egg as well. Some traditions you never quite grow out of.