By the time this is read, the season of Lent will have come and gone. Easter will be a memory and our lives will roll along towards summer. Most won’t even be giving the next liturgical holy day, Pentecost, a second thought. We will be rolling along in life on our autopilot.
But it doesn’t need to be, nor should it. The spirituality of these holy days is what all of us are called to live in the Gospel. It goes beyond religion…it is healthy living in mind and spirit. I think of it as Humanity. The rippling effects of Living Lent and Embracing Pentecost is, in my mind, living the Gospel and transforms not only ourselves, but the world.
Lent comes from the old English word len(c)ten, meaning “spring season” and possibly also meaning the “lengthening of days”. Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty”, and from the ancient Christian expression pentekoste hemera, which means “fiftieth day.”
The word “Lent” is likely to bring back childhood memories of “giving up candy” to most Catholics. Now, into our adulthood, Lent may simply mean fasting, abstaining from meat and attending Stations of the Cross. Pentecost, on the other hand, may only mean liturgical colors of red and symbols of the Paraclete or for Pentecostals, the “talking in tongues”. Although celebrated separately, the decision to Live Lent and Embrace Pentecost in our daily lives can transform us, and thus transform the world. How? Let’s take a look:
Although self-denial has its purpose and benefit, a more contemporary view is to be active in the positive. Living Lent is action? Yes. In actively changing our own thoughts and behaviors we not only transform our own lives for the better but we toss that transformative stone into the world’s pond. The ripples from this stone will continue infinitely ….changing lives and thus, as mentioned earlier, changing the world.
But, it’s going to cost you. It’s going to make you feel uncomfortable, challenged, and at times, frustrated. At the minimum, it’s going to cost you in humility, self-control, patience, and forgiveness.
Pope Francis urges us to start our own transformation with active fasting of negative behaviors.
- Fasting from hurtful words and instead, search and use kind words in our speech
- Fasting from sadness and instead, find and celebrate gratitude
- Fasting from anger and instead, be more patient
- Fasting from pessimism and instead, look for and be filled with hope
- Fasting from worldly pressures and instead, center oneself and be more prayerful
- Fasting from bitterness and instead, fill your heart with joy
- Fasting from selfishness and instead, be more generous and compassionate towards others
- Fasting from grudges and instead, actively start on the road to forgiveness and reconciliation
- Fasting from words and instead, be silent so you can listen
Notice something? All the negative behaviors are those which, left unchecked, feed upon themselves. They’re also selfish. There is no thought or care for others.
Will this fast be easy? No. But what is the alternative? Is it wallowing and sinking further into a life of negativity? All one needs to do is look at the unhappiness and negativity in the world. It all comes from these behaviors left unchecked. It’s clear how much more beneficial it is to fast (refrain) and steer one’s self away from these behaviors. And, it’s not just about the behaviors….it’s our thoughts behind them. Being mindful of why we are behaving in these ways and why we think about this or that as we do, isn’t the complete transforming of ourselves, but rather, just the beginning. Whole books have been written about this, but for now this is a starting point.
Can we do this alone? No. We need help. White knuckling it isn’t the way to go. The success comes more from a spirituality of mindfulness than from religion. It’s not about a prescribed recipe of practices, rituals, and prayers we repeat with the assumption that magically this will change our routines, habits and behaviors. So, let’s just ditch the “religion” thing. It’s the spirituality of mindfulness. In the Franciscan Spiritual discipline, it’s “just being”….accepting all of creation “as it is”. If one is a Christian, we can take it further with the concept of “living in the spirit”. The gifts of the Holy Spirit will help us along our journey of transformation. We have a partner helping us! God sends us His Spirit and those gifts of the Spirit to partner with us in our spiritual journey of change. God is our cheerleader!
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are:
- Wisdom – We open ourselves to receive understanding and insight into all that is of God; the ability to see God in creation, especially in each other.
- Counsel – We open ourselves to be led by God in our lives.
- Fortitude – We open ourselves to the decision and confidence of embracing goodness over evil, especially when it is most difficult due to our own weaknesses and when, we realize it will cost us.
- Knowledge – We are open to God guiding us to judge and discern correctly, especially in matters of faith.
- Piety – Opening ourselves to receive and freely return God’s love; to see and revere God in all creation and in each other.
- Fear of God – We open ourselves to God’s eternal Love and Mercy and work to avoid separating ourselves from these gifts.
The gifts of the Spirit are here; we only need to ask and open ourselves to receive them. God doesn’t push them upon us, but rather waits for us to openly ask for them.
How to begin? As stated earlier, it starts with mindfulness. Disconnect the autopilot most of us are operating under. We react all day long to stimulus without a given thought. We are operating on our autopilot. Take the time each day to quietly still yourself to all outside stimuli. Turn off the TV and put away the cell phone. Sit quietly and relax. Examine your motives and behaviors, objectively. No blame and no excuses. How you react is totally on you. Now, ponder…Is this how Jesus would want me to react or behave in this situation? I slide through the stop sign because I’m in such a hurry. Why? Is THAT more important than just taking one extra second to simply stop? Think of your interactions with others. Have you screamed, yelled or muttered an unkind word (or thought it) when someone cut you off on the freeway? Now think, is it possible you have inadvertently cut someone off at some time? Why do I judge and condemn when I am so imperfect? Haven’t you, without noticing the other driver, failed to yield? Is it really THAT important for you to always be in the right? Think about it. Close your eyes and just think about it. How important or significant is it to react with anger and impatience? How does this benefit anyone, especially ourselves? When we take our last breath on this earth, how will our outburst and surrender to anger benefited us?
Then there’s the gal who got into the express line with a handful of coupons and this is irritating the heck out of you. You’ve got things to do and couldn’t this person just READ the SIGN?! Step back…….yes, we lead busy lives. But when we leave this earth, will this inconvenience really make any difference? And will your anger, cursing and impatience really have benefited you?
But, you say, “This always happens!” “The jerks in that car are getting away with it!” So what? SO WHAT? Even if that’s true, that’s on them. This is on you. You take care of YOU (and your own blood pressure). This is spiritual self-care. It helps if we think of these moments as opportunities for “the lesson”. This isn’t the exercise to beat yourself up. It’s the exercise to examine ourselves and how we live our day to day lives powered not by our Faith, but by the autopilot. It starts with the small things…… small lessons.
So, the next time someone cuts you off, let it go. Catch yourself before you mutter your displeasure or yell profanities. (or immediately afterwards as I am still struggling to do.)
Don’t judge the other. Don’t let the autopilot control you.
Living Lent by fasting from the anger, impatience, frustration and judgement is supported by embracing the partnership from the Holy Spirit. Just ask for the wisdom, the fortitude and counsel. Ask for the help. You must quiet yourself and then just ask. You must be open to receive. We cannot do any of this successfully if we let the autopilot control us.
For Christians, to truly be living the Gospel every day, these everyday situations are OUR personal, custom-made lessons. How can we be mindfully living the Gospel and then come unglued with situations such as these? How are we living the Gospel unless we Live Lent in fasting from the above mentioned negative behaviors? How can we be Embracing Pentecost by living in the Spirit and let our autopilot take us out of control and out of what living as a healthy human being and as a Christian? Hard to do? You betcha. Christ never assured us it would be easy. It takes practice and perseverance. Psychologists tell us how difficult it is to change a behavior.
Phillippa Lally is a health psychology researcher at University College London. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and her research team conducted studies to find out just how long it actually takes to change a habit or form a new one. They found that on the average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior is set. And for a new habit to form, it can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In this study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
So, 2-6 months to change? One doesn’t have to only start at Lent, although this would be a great time to start. It’s never too late. Living Lent can be a way of living life so that one can grow spiritually. And, when this growth happens, the benefits to the physical self become apparent. In turn, our kinder behaviors benefit all around us, rippling out into the world.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not significantly affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it’s not an “all or nothing” thing. Even if you mess up (and you will…we ALL mess up), just keep at it. Will change happen overnight? Heavens, no! Change will be slow. Pruning takes patience. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t judge. Just keep at it. This is a life-long journey. But, the benefits are worth it. Only God can judge and remember God is cheering you on!