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Not Easy. But Quite Simple

A few thoughts about Lent, and Lenten resolutions:

If you haven’t made any Lenten resolutions yet, it’s not too late.

Counting Sundays, and beginning with this Sunday, there are still 35 days left before Easter, plenty of time to confront our old, unhealthy habits and establish new, wholesome ones.

So if you haven’t given up sweets, alcohol, excessive caffeine, nicotine, shopping-as-hobby and snacking/overeating, then those are great places to start.

And if you, like me, have given up one of those petty vices but find yourself taking comfort in another one of them, then pay careful attention to what you’re doing: merely substituting one addiction for another. And give that up, too, for the remainder of Lent.

G. Jeffrey MacDonald, writing for The Boston Globe here asks a good question:

“How did [Lent], Christianity’s most serious season become a joke in this supposedly religious country? We let desire become our master, and desire has no use for sacrifice.

“For centuries, Christianity sought to temper primitive desire for addictive pleasures, dominance of neighbors, hoarding of resources, and other idols that ruin lives. But the broader culture has persuaded us to cut loose, to obey our lowest passions, lest they fester into perpetual frustration.

“Meanwhile, they jettison the harder and more edifying parts of Christianity, such as practicing repentance, sharing in others’ sufferings, and observing Lent.”

So, people of St. James’, be counter-cultural!

Substitute an hour of television or Internet surfing for an hour of reading some passage from the Bible and sitting silently with God.

Decide today that starting today, you’ll fast from some (or all) of the petty vices listed above. It’s not easy, but it is simple. All you have to do is:

1) Ask yourself: “Which of these things do I do, out of habit?” (Check all that apply; add others I’ve forgotten to list.)
  • Eat sweets/desserts
  • Snack/eat large portions/have seconds
  • Have a glass of wine, beer or other alcoholic beverage
  • Surf the Internet/watch television
  • Use coffee, tea, nicotine or colas to override tiredness
  • Shop for non-necessities as a way to relieve stress
2) Stop that behavior/those behaviors. Go cold turkey, today. Unless you need their help, don’t tell anyone (except God) what you’re doing or not doing, just stop doing it.

Here’s a cold hard fact: if you can stop doing the behavior between now and Easter Sunday (April 24), you probably are not addicted to it. But if you cannot stop the behavior (and that starts out with “but I don’t WANT to stop the behavior!”), then you definitely are addicted.

3) When you feel the discomfort, the withdrawal symptoms, don’t run away from that discomfort. Think of it as your entering a time of wilderness and testing, and talk to God about it. The whole point of fasting is to remind us of how dependent we are… and on what or whom.

The point of Lent is not to take our fun away. For sure, breaking addictions is not fun; dethroning idols is not easy. But remember: “Idols ruin lives.” When good things become bad gods, they aren’t fun, either… and with God’s help, freeing ourselves from our false gods brings, in the long run, freedom and deep joy.

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