Lent is a time of preparation. It begins on Ash Wednesday when we are reminded that we started as dust and to dust we shall return. It is the time when the Christian Church recalls the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert, his Passion and death – and ultimately his Resurrection on Easter Sunday! It is the reason and the culmination of our Faith – and our hope for the future.
As a time of preparation and self-sacrifice, Lent is often associated with fasting and giving things up that we enjoy. In particular, if we give up things like sweets and alcohol – that are not particularly good for us – it can be a time of cleansing … body and spirit – so that’s good.
It is always good to be mindful of our Blessings and in turn try to be a blessing to others. We can do this by sharing our time, our talents and our treasures. Furthermore, giving up the things that we enjoy, can make us hunger and yearn for them – and therefore enjoy them more when we have them again. There is a wonderful synchronicity in combining self-sacrifice with alms giving. For example, if we give up eating out at restaurants, or even give up having wine for Lent – and take the money we saved and give it to a homeless shelter or food bank, the sacrifice becomes more meaningful.
However, Lent should not just be about what you give up – it should focus on positive things that help us to imitate Christ and thereby improve ourselves and the world around us. There are countless things that could include which are appropriate for every age group and income. Spending quality time with your family. Visiting aging relatives – or even a phone call to grandparents, visiting residents in care homes … and volunteering to read to them. Working at a food bank or soup kitchen. Bringing food and a waterproof blanket to the homeless. Making a donation to any worthwhile charity.
In addition to works of charity, Lent can also be a time for spiritual growth and reflection. Reading scripture and other meaningful books, attending worship and bible study sessions, praying, and spending time in the classroom of silence are all excellent ways to grow spiritually.
There is a business consultant, born in in Australia, and working at a boutique firm in Chicago with Fortune 500 companies. His name is Matthew Kelly and he does this job for four days a month to make a living for himself and his family. The rest of the time he spends writing, and speaking at schools, churches and community centers around the world to help people become the best they can be. He started an organization called The Dynamic Catholic which offers books, videos and inspiration to anyone who is interested. You don’t need to be Catholic to check out Best Lent Ever at http://dynamiccatholic.com.
Matthew Kelly has spoken to millions of people and relates our call to Holiness – to imitate Christ – to simply becoming the-best-version-of-ourselves. Why settle for second best? God wants what is best for us!
So how can we become the-best-version-of-ourselves? Examine your life in four planes – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Ask yourself, how can I be my best in these four areas?
Physical is probably the most obvious – how can you become the-best-version-of- yourself physically? Not smoking, not drinking excessively, not taking unnecessary drugs or substances, eating well, exercising regularly, getting sufficient rest, downtime and sleep. There has been a lot written on this so I will not belabor it here … just be honest with yourself – set goals, and revisit the plan every month or so.
Becoming the best-version-of yourself emotionally has a lot to do with relationships and social interactions. This includes with your family and peers, as well as colleagues at work and anyone you interact with. Take the time to understand those you relate with on a regular basis and ask yourself how can you become a better spouse, friend, employee, employer, teammate, etc.
Intellectual growth has to do with courses we take and books we read. It can include learning anything new – work related or not. Consider learning a new language, or instrument, or upgrading any skills that interests you. This can be to further your career, or simply to further yourself for your own intrinsic reasons.
Spiritual growth can be different for different people – but should connect us more with a Higher Power – whatever God is for you. Doing things for others and contemplating the deeper meaning of life, and exploring our beliefs helps us to grow spiritually. Just as we strive to communicate well with people we interact with, we can also communicate with our God. That communication is called prayer. There are many ways to pray – so as Lent is beginning, let me close this article by giving you The Prayer Process, borrowed from Matthew Kelly.
- Gratitude: begin by thanking God in a personal dialogue for whatever you are most grateful for today.
- Awareness: revisit the times in the past 24 hours when you were not the-best-best-version-of-yourself. Talk to God about these situations and what you learned from them.
- Significant Moments: Identify something you experienced today and explore what God might be trying to say to you through that event or person.
- Peace: ask God to forgive you for any wrong you have committed (against yourself, another person, or Him) and fill you with a deep and abiding peace.
- Freedom: speak with God about how He is inviting you to change your life, so that you can experience the freedom to become the-best-version-of-yourself.
- Others: lift up to God anyone you feel called to pray for today, asking God to bless and guide them.
- Finish with the prayer that Jesus taught us – the Our Father.
Reflect on these thoughts to have The Best Lent Ever – and revisit your physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual goals regularly – have Your Best Life – Ever!
References: Matthew Kelly, “The Rhythm of Life – How to Live a Life of Passion and Purpose” and Matthew Kelly, “The Four Sign of a Dynamic Catholic”