I’ve been giving things up for Lent ever since I was cognizant that people did such a thing. It seemed like a good way to regulate yourself over the reasonable 40-day period, to cold-turkey your way out of an addiction. Giving up meat my freshman year of college helped lead me to giving it up altogether several months later, and I still don’t eat it (unless it comes from the sea). And I’ve given up Facebook, my perennial mental health obstacle, several times and found relief in that break. I wrote last year at this time that “the point of giving things up is to refill your life with something better, to bring you closer to God.” I haven’t always had that mindset going into Lent, but coming to this conclusion has made it a more meaningful season for me.
So what to do this year? Just as I struggled to decide what my New Year’s Resolution would be (to be who I say I am), I couldn’t figure out what to give up for Lent. I didn’t feel like there was any particular thing that I needed to get rid of. I am not addicted to Facebook the way I once was, and it’s not causing me the same anxiety. Overall, that is a victory. Eventually I chose to disable my Instagram account for the season, to cut down on the time I spend looking at my phone. But that’s not my focus. I’m not obsessing about how much I miss it (I hardly do, though I do plan to reactivate on Easter). Rather, in conjunction with my resolution to be who I say I am, I am focusing on being intentional in all I do… and that means taking care of myself so the intentionality is real. While my anxiety has improved since its worst point last fall, I still struggle with mental exhaustion. I decided to make this my positive Lent resolution: to be aware of my energy levels and choose what I can do at a given time without self-repercussion. I keep to-do lists and obsess about them sometimes, trying to accomplish everything on it as quickly as I can in hopes of relief from that. And if there’s not very much on my list, well, I still exhaust myself. So now I am working to be mindful of what I can do in a day. Often that means only doing one other thing besides my full-time job. The end goal is to do better at everything that I do because my mind is balanced and rested. I’m happy to have gained more awareness of what my mind can handle and can choose to navigate that.
Now, this probably goes against what you may have heard about Lent. In the early church, as I learned from a pastor friend of mine, new Christians used that time to reflect before they were baptized. One practice that often gets associated with it is “fasting,” which gets translated to “not eating,” but can be translated to other addictions as well. Above all, it’s a time to repent for your sins. The Sunday School definition of that is apologizing. But there’s more to it. Repentance means you fully recognize what you’ve done wrong and why it’s wrong, apologizing, and seeking God’s forgiveness (which He always offers!). There’s no self-beating in there. Not to say you shouldn’t be humbled by the process, but that’s not harmful. In fact, being humbled feels pretty good, relinquishing the anxiety that’s built up and exhausted you. So, my process for reducing mental exhaustion allows me more space to repent, reflect, and rebuild. Anxiety drives people around the world to terrible sins every day… I’m not going to let it do the same to me.
As I go about life, whether at work, church, orchestra, social events, or out wandering around Minnesota (or anywhere else in the world), I’ll be taking care of my mind. You don’t need to commemorate Lent or even be a Christian to take care of yours, whatever that means. It’s not a reward – it’s a requirement for being alive. It doesn’t mean being haughty; it will allow you to treat others better too and take care of them if they need it. Set high standards, but stay realistic, too. And when Easter comes, celebrate your progress – and keep it going!
Lots going on lately – orchestra concert, making apps, writing articles for Agri News, making music at church, writing fiction, and visiting friends and family – all of it good. I have no need to boast about being busier than anyone else, because it doesn’t matter. I do the things I do with intention. My only hope is that the rest of you do the same.