Whether you are agnostic, atheist, Buddhist or “other,” if you live in Western society, you undoubtedly have been confronted with the problem of whether or not to celebrate the Christian holidays.
Whatever your belief system, there is benefit to celebrating each of them. They celebrate so much more than simply a Christian worldview. Christians believe that man was created in God’s image, and so many of the holidays don’t just celebrate the Christian concept of the divine, but traits that we can all admire in men as well.
I get funny looks from my friends when I ask whether they’ve given up anything for Lent. Many don’t necessarily know what Lent is about – even if they grew up in Christian households. I’ve practiced it for several years, and I’ve always found it helpful. I look forward to it every year and give some thought about what I’m giving up.
In the Christian tradition, Lent signals a time to give up something which is bad for you, or perhaps a luxury that you can do without -for 40 days.
This acknowledges the 40-day period of fasting and meditation of Jesus in the desert before he began his ministry, during which time he was tempted by the devil.
We can envision the self-doubt, confusion and temptation that must have accompanied this time. Jesus was deciding to give up life within his tribe to preach a philosophy that was contrary to their beliefs. He must have known that he would be persecuted both by the Romans and his own people. A sojourn in the desert would have been necessary to separate from the noise and temptations of a relatively comfortable day-to-day life so that he could firmly decide to sacrifice it for a greater cause. He could have just pursued a career as a carpenter. Yet he followed his heart and his passion and began his ministry.
In our hyper-connected, #firstworldproblem society, we could all benefit from practicing a little break from some aspect of our automatic consumerism. Even in America, nearly 20% of the population goes to bed hungry – yet for many of us, a slow internet connection and bad service at Starbucks gets our blood boiling.
Many people have given their lives so that ours could be as easy as it is – soldiers, doctors, scientists, ministers, teachers, philosophers and a host of others have bled, sweat and died to create the lives we have today.
Lent gives us an opportunity to reflect on the benefits of self-sacrifice and attempt to emulate it.
Further, Lent gives us an opportunity to make a positive change in our lives.
According to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, it takes 3 weeks to change a habit. Lent is 6 weeks long. It can provide the needed impetus to permanently change a pattern of behavior that you’ve wanted to change – diet, drugs or any other unsavory habits all succumb after 3 weeks.
Research has demonstrated that once we change a single habit, other changes become easier. Smokers who break their own smoking habits routinely go on to change other aspects of their lives, from exercise to new jobs to going back to school. This matches my own experience with quitting smoking. Once I conquered that, I went on to go back to school, start a successful company and run a few marathons. Although my life had been good up to that point, I believe that quitting smoking allowed me to reevaluate other “habits” and change those as well.
So – Lent is worth celebrating. It will never get the attention that other celebrations do, but we can guess why that is – there’s no money in advertising for it. It isn’t a big money maker. However, with a little thought, I believe it can create mental, spiritual and possibly physical benefits that go well beyond the benefits we receive from chocolate bunnies and jelly beans.