I’ve been talking about making our resolutions and goals “sticky” and gave you my first goal for the year. I said that one way to make your goals sticky is by writing them down. I mean, how are you going to know if you meet your goals if you don’t remember them, right?
Another way to make sticky goals is to have checkpoints along the way – holidays, events, or reoccurring days when you can sit down with your written goals and a cup of coffee to see how you are doing.
So what is Lent and how does that relate to your goals and resolutions? Lent began in the early Christians Church as a time of reflection and renewal, marked by prayer, fasting, repentance, self-denial and giving to the poor. It is celebrated from Ash Wednesday (today) through Easter Sunday (April 8th). Catholics give up meat, eggs, cheese and other favorite foods so they can focus their attention on disciplines of charity and repentance. Many non-Catholics use this as an opportunity to renew their New Year’s Resolutions or abstain from some habit that they know they should quit like smoking, alcohol, coffee, drinking sodas or leaving flaming poop-bags on doorsteps. Just as it rained for 40 days while Noah was in the Ark, just as Israel wandered 40 years in the desert, and just as Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and praying before the start of His ministry, so we set aside 40 days to remember and dwell on God’s greatness.
But why? Is it just an empty religious holiday that we observe to fulfill some guilt complex? For many, absolutely. I love this example: Did you know that Fat Tuesday (last night) during Mardi Gras is the ONLY night of the year when bars and clubs in New Orleans close by midnight? The reason is their observance of Ash Wednesday. So the biggest party in the country – ($1.2 Million people) with the most alcohol consumed and the single largest period of public nudity (200,000 beads are given out, and you know what you have to do to get those beads, right?) and voyeurism (for every one woman who flashes, there are 10 men with video cameras to record it) – shuts down on the first night for the 12-hour period of Ash Wednesday. But tonight, after attending Mass and celebrating Ash Wednesday, hordes of men and women are going to get hammered, make some poor decisions, and maybe end up on the news because of these decisions, all while having the symbolic ash on their foreheads. So if it is something to do to feel better about ourselves and relieve the guilt for a day, there will be no heart change, no life change, and no difference the next day. So, too, us – if Lent is just a time when we hope we will be some nebulous version of “better,” then you can bet nothing will change.
However, if Lent is a season of reflection and a reminder of how, in Christ, we are already accepted as children and out of that love that the Father has lavished on us we desire to live as children of God, then the change you desire to see is not driven by fear or by a desire to “earn” anything from God, but out of joy and a freedom that you are living as a child of God.
Goal # 2
I know it may sound stupid or corny or whatever, but one of my goals is to stop biting my nails. I’ve tried most things, too – nail polish, the bad tasting goop, I even made my own concoction of cayenne pepper and lemon juice. I’ve reverted to putting clear masking tape over my fingers to keep myself from biting. Nothing. I chew away at my nails like I’m starving in the desert. It is an anxiety-driven habit that has turned into a something that is almost a completely unconscious action. And I hate it – it’s unsanitary, disgusting, it hurts my fingers, and I have a very difficult time opening things or doing detailed work with my hands, like opening soda cans or turning pages. It is distracting and may be some way to cope with stress or anxiety, and I want it gone. I don’t want anything between me and God as I experience stress or anxiety – I want to run to Him, cast my cares upon Him, knowing that He cares for me. I don’t want to rely on myself and my abilities to solve my problems, and biting my nails may be indicative of the pressure to do just that.
Being free of sin is a holy desire – Romans 6:12-22 is a great example. But being free of habits and things that are not “profitable” is a holy desire as well. 1 Corinthians 10:23-31 talks about how not everything is beneficial for us, and that no one should seek their own pleasure and selfish desires, but should seek the good of others. And if you eat, drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do you see how this is a heart change and not just a change of appearance or action? It is a deep hope that whatever we do, we give God the glory and don’t get in the way of others giving God glory.
So, as I reflect on my goals and hopes for this year, I pray that they are not just self-help improvements that make me a better, more “whole” person who is more appealing and marketable. Instead, I pray that this would be part of the refining process that God uses to burn both the sinful and distracting habits and characteristics away this year.