40 days to Easter

“Lent is a time to renew wherever we are in that process that I call the divine therapy. It’s a time to look what our instinctual needs are, look at what the dynamics of our unconscious are.” –Thomas Keating

Last weekend, we attended the baptism of my niece. While listening to the pastor’s sermon, I thought of all the Lenten seasons past that I’ve “fasted” from something in my life. I’ve given up sugary foods, soda, chocolate, pizza, video games, TV, and much much more. Some years, I have given up nothing but increased Bible reading, church attendance, journaling, or some other Spiritual discipline.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season in the Christian church. I wondered to myself if I should participate this year and how I will participate. The hardest thing for me sometimes is choosing what might be a fitting “sacrifice” and discipline for me to partake in. I try to make it something that will benefit not only my Spiritual health during the season, but might stick with me in my physical, mental or spiritual health later. 40 days from now, I may have had a different experience than I think.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare men for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ…the better the preparation the more effective the celebration will be. One can effectively relive the mystery only with purified mind and heart. The purpose of Lent is to provide that purification by weaning men from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating in them the desire to do God’s will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in their hearts.”

40 days, the length of the Lenten season, is a significant number of days in the spiritual world. It’s the length of time that Jesus spent in the wilderness before his ministry started. It’s the length of time the Bible says it rained to create the “Great Flood”. 40 years is how old Mohammad supposedly was when he received his revelation of the arch angel, Michael. The planet Venus forms a pentagram in the night sky every eight years and returns to its original point every 40 years with a 40 day regression, leading astrologists to talk about anything from bad behavior of dogs to infertility to engagements.

In the biological world, 40 days is also far past the 21 days necessary for a human brain to fully accept a new habit. You could almost start a habit twice in that time!! Also, 40 days gives you a chance to try out this new habit in multiple scenarios. The time of year that the Lenten season is in even gives you a chance to try the habit out in multiple seasons if you live in the Midwest like we do. This week alone, we will deal with rain, snow, and sunshine on days that are anywhere from -4 degrees F to 57 degrees F. This new habit will be thoroughly embedded in your psyche and maybe even change your life for good moving forward.

I’ve always thought of the 40 days of Lent as a way to transition from winter to summer in a healthier frame of mind and physical state. So, this year, I am going to give up one thing and add two. I will be giving up all electronic games. I am adding more exercise and writing.

For some, electronic games mean nothing. It would be a minor sacrifice for some. For me, this will be the biggest test. It is such a habit to play games on Facebook and my phone that it would take up hours of my day if I let it; and I have let it before. If given the opportunity, I won’t even play console games, which are a particular weakness of mine since we got rid of our TV some years ago. This will be the hardest part of the Lenten sacrifice for me and counts as two in my book.

As far as exercising, I’ve done well in the past. I have a specific goal in mind for this Lenten time. I want to begin training for a Spartan Sprint race. To do this, I will need to increase my strength training and my running back to levels that will really get my muscles in shape to take on the obstacles. I plan to do 3 workouts a week featuring strength, 3 featuring cardio, and 3 featuring flexibility. I also want at least 1 full day off each week from all exercise so my body can heal. Some days will be short workouts of 30-60 minutes total, others may add up to 2 hours or more, depending on what needs to be done.

Writing has become sporadic for me. I used to write in a journal every day, write at least 2-3 letters a week, and write in a blog 2-3 times a week. In the last year, I’ve gotten to where I’m lucky to write in the blog once a week and a letter once a month. My journals have fallen off entirely. I’d like to get back to at least writing something every single day. I won’t be writing here that often, but know that I will probably write here more often. It becomes a solace and a helpful decision making tool.

With those changes, I feel that I’ll be growing my spiritual health. My relationship with myself and with God grows by my writing and it’s hindered by distractions like my games. Exercise is mostly for my physical health, but mental health is always helped by “burning off the crazy”. So, whether I’m out running or here writing, I’ll see you on the road.

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