Lent offers us a journey inside ourselves to discover, discern and deliberate. no doubt this will be difficult. Expect to fail. Enjoy.
“I suck.” “I can’t.” “I quit.” “I’m done.” “I’m outta here.”
Which of these phrases have you said in the last week or even the last 24-hours? For me, it’s impossible to count because while I may not say them out loud, I’ve think them quietly in my head. These words and phrases have haunted our lexicon for as long as I can remember. They are ingrained in our thinking, our speaking, and in our doing. If these words have taught me anything it’s that I’m taking serious notice about how using them have stunted my mental and spiritual growth. Most likely, they’ve done the same to you.
There’s an age-old axiom that asserts negative thinking only leads to negative action. That is to say, if you believe it to be true than it will become true. First in your heart and then in your head. From there it spills outwardly through your actions. Thinking you’re not good enough or smart enough or even strong enough to do something will eventually lead to you to believe that you are not able, even if you actually are.
Of course, there will be times when you have to cut yourself free; when your health or safety is threatened, or when you find yourself in a toxic relationship that isn’t helping you to be a better person. It could be a marriage, a bad job or employer, or an institution like politics or religion. There are bad things in life that only bring out bad thinking which then produce bad results. So, we cut them out.
This leads to a bigger question. How do we fill the void that is made when we cut out that negative content? The goal is to fill it in with something positive, right? Something that will help you grow, mature, and produce goodness within that will spill out into the world. At least, that’s what we hope is the outcome. And this is not easy, nor is it without pain. You are lopping off a part of you that has been with you for a long time. That separation is hurt at times. And most likely, it’s gonna scar.
Life is hard. And there will be times we want to quit or give up. But why throw the baby out with the bath water? When I was a copywriter in advertising, I had a habit of cutting my last sentence of body copy and pasting it to the beginning. Pretty much every time I did this, my copy would become better. There will be times in life when you have to do a little cutting and pasting. Taking out the negative and pasting in something positive in its place.
Which brings me to what I believe the season of Lent is all about Fasting and feasting. It’s not just about removing something in your life but replacing it with something good. What does that mean? Well, most of us know that Lent is about fasting from something – like chocolate or alcohol or something that doesn’t require much effort from you. The problem is stuff like that isn’t life changing. It doesn’t transform you to become something better. Or we try to up our fasting game, and then give up when we can’t manage to go three days without cussing or smoking. That makes sense because we live in a culture where there is great pressure put upon us to succeed, and to be the very best at whatever it is we’re supposed to be the best at.
I propose a different approach, one where failure is the key to your success. It begins with fasting from something that isn’t producing the fruits of life in you. Giving up chocolate might be good for your teeth or diet, but it really doesn’t affect the way you treat others or allow others to treat you. So, first and foremost, look within yourself to see what things are causing you to struggle with being your best self. Make a list and then pick one that will challenge you to the point of failure.
But there’s more to simply starving your soul. You also have to fill that space with goodness. You have to feast on something that will counter balance the bad thing you’re fasting from. For example, let’s say you’re spending way too much time on social media. You choose to spend the next 40 days fasting from it. So what then will you do with your free time? How about feast on writing letters to friends in lieu of simply slapping a zany emoji on their post. Maybe you have a lot of judgment in your life. How about cutting it out and feasting on acceptance. Teach yourself how to love instead of hate. There hasn’t been a better antidote to negative words and actions like the healing balm of love and kindness.
It’s important to remember that the anger or judgment or fear that you’re cutting out of you begins with YOU. No one lives closer to you than your own self, warts and all. Growth, both spiritual and psychological, begins with an honest look inside your heart and mind. It requires a little sleuthing around your story and history. You need to embrace and understand it so you know exactly where to cut and let go. Once it’s out, then you can fill that empty space with what your heart truly desires- peace, love, joy, etc.
Lent offers us a journey inside ourselves to discover and discern and deliberate. No doubt this will be difficult at first. Expect to fail. Expect to suck at it. And when you say things like “I can’t” or “I quit” remind yourself of what you are fasting from and feasting on. Failure is a gift. It leads us to the solutions and answers we seek. Failure allows your heart and head to see an old problem and to shift into a new paradigm of thinking about who you are.
Lent is about learning to embrace failure. That is the goal because through it we grow into who we want to be. In failing we see where we went wrong or how we’re straying from our goal. It allows us to cross that certain thing off the list of possibilities to narrow our focus as we move closer to where we want to be. Failure is to be embraced. It’s not a weakness but your strength.
This truly countercultural. It goes against our American mentality by redefining what success looks like. The more you practice it (like a 40 day challenge) the easier you begin to think, feel and love. You redefine yourself, with a new paradigm of how you see yourself, and how you live that self out into the world. The more you fast from the things that hold you back, the more you are able to feast on the things that expand you with the abundance of life.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”