Wednesday marked the beginning of the Lenten season. Growing up here in New Orleans, a largely Catholic city, I’m used to the after Mardi Gras small-talk of “What are you giving up for Lent?” The purpose of Lent is to prepare the believer’s heart for Easter Sunday. Traditionally, those who practice lent practice prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday to help themselves remember the death of Jesus on Good Friday, and celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday. In more modern times, Lent has been modified to mostly participants choosing a vice to give up for a the forty days period. Believers often give up things like candy, excessive shopping, or cold drinks.
The religious tradition I am a part of does not usually observe Lent. However, as a young girl, ALL of my schoolmates were Catholic. And since my inner codependent has always had such a high need for approval… I observed it as well (at least during school hours). Over the years I have given things up cold drinks, sugar, television, caffeine, fast food, carbohydrates, hot water (i.e. cold showers for 40 days), Facebook and sweets.
Looking back now I realize now that I turned Lent, a time which is intended to draw us near to God, into being all about me. I chose to give up things for my own benefit, rather than out of my love for God. For example, my freshman year of college I gave up fast food. I would love to say that forty days brought me closer to God- but preparing my heart for Easter and remembering the sacrificial love of Jesus was never really my motivation. I was a poor college girl who wanted to save money and shed some weight. My senior year of H.S. I gave up television. Again, not out of love for God, but to more time to do homework and fill out college applications. To make matters even worse, I participated in the charade that my self-sacrifice was all about how godly I was. As much as it pains me to admit it, I has a secret sense of pride in giving up something that I perceived to be more difficult than what my friends had chosen.
As a person in recovery, my approach to Lent is quite different now. I’m so grateful for the recovery principles and 12 steps. It can be very difficult for me to believe that I matter to God or that He will help me recover.Because my faith that God really loves me and will help me, I am resistant to turn my life and will over to His care and control. If I don’t believe that God really cares for me or will help me, then it makes total sense that I would be resistant to that. What ultimately ends up happening is that in trying to control things that I need to submit to the Lord.
This year, I am committed to making Lent about God, not about me. My prayer lately has been from Ezekiel 36:26 Give me a new heart and put a new spirit in me; take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. When I think about what Christ would really call me to give up, I have a funny feeling it wouldn’t be chocolate or television or fast food. It probably something more like pride. Or my eating disorder. Or my desperate need for approval from others. Or the fears that feed my anxiety. Or that gnawing feeling of unworthiness. Or everything. God doesn’t so much want my time or my money or my works – He wants me, all of me. And He wants you too.
No matter what step you are currently working, Lent can be a great season to give your recovery a booster shot. If you are looking for a way to give yourself a boost, Lent may be just the thing you’ve been searching for. Blessings to you on your season of Lent. May you find yourself overwhelmed by God’s great love for you, and the sacrifice of His son. I hope you find these ideas on how to incorporate the practice of Lent into your recovery this year:
- Don’t jeopardize your recovery with Lent. Try to avoid choosing a Lent observance that is directly related to the hurt, habit, or hang-up you are in recovery for. If you have a slip up during Lent this can be a set up for relapse and it is not worth the risk. I have an eating disorder, so I’m pretty sensitive to this issue. My treatment team and sponsor feel its best for me not have Lent observances that deal with food or exercise because they can be triggering for my old behaviors. The common practice of fasting, along with themes of morality and purity, can be triggering, both for individuals in recovery and who are actively struggling. These practices can nurture an unhealthy relationship with food, drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, etc. rather than strengthening one’s spiritual relationship, and even act as an excuse to participate in acting out behaviors. Do what you can to avoid triggers to the best of your ability and then choose your own observance that honors where you are in your recovery.
- Resist the urge to compare yourself to others during Lent. My junior year of college I gave up shopping. I was having coffee with a study group and the subject came up. I explained the logistics to them. I literally didn’t purchase anything for 40 days (only used my meal plan and I organized my life to live on one tank of gas by biking or walking). I thought I was really something, until this really annoying Worship Ministry major (who had dread locks and never wore any shoes on campus… ) announced that he was only going to eat bread and water during Lent. Everyone was so impressed with him and my bubble was burst. Comparison is the thief of joy my friends. Don’t buy into the hype.There was a season when I didn’t participate in Lent. Then, once I did begin to participate, I tried to be mindful about how and when I talked about the Lenten season. I just couldn’t help myself from comparing myself to others, so I did my best not ask others what they were giving up and to stay quiet when those conversations came up in my presence. I had to really practice humility and stay away from others who might be giving up things that are triggering to me.
- Consider how you can fit your 12 step work into your Lent observance. Many people choose to add something to their routine instead of fasting from something. Perhaps you could use this time to get back into daily step work, reach out to a fellow in recovery or new comers each day, or add an hour or two of service work for your recovery meeting each week.
- Use your Lent to practice mindfulness and interrupt negative self-talk. Giving up fried food would be great for your heart. Giving up negative self-talk would be even better. How healthy would your heart be if you practiced stopping yourself every time you spoke to yourself in a mean or demeaning way. I can be really, really mean to myself. I say things to myself that I would never say to another human being. Sometimes, if I am am able to catch myself in the middle of a really hateful inner dialogue I take some deep breaths, put my hand on my heart and just talk back to the mean, hateful Shannon that was having a hissy fit.I tell her “I know you’re there. I know you feel like ________. It’s okay. I know you’re there.” I know it sounds a little wacky, (because it totally is…) but I would rather be a little nutty with my hand on my heart, being mindful of my feelings and trying to give myself a pep-talk than continuing to have all my really mean, negative thoughts. Maybe my method seems a little weird to you. Try getting a rubber band and snapping it to interrupt those thoughts. Get an accountability partner or sponsor to help you be more positive. Journal about the thoughts to see if you can reduce them. Do some deep breathing. Make a funny face. Choose some habit that you can rely on to reset the negative thoughts.
- Keep it simple and take it one day at a time during Lent. Keeping it simple is imperative during your recovery and during Lent. If you have an overly ambitious observance plan it may be overwhelming to you. Your Lent practice can be as simple as spending a few minutes in prayer each day. Don’t feel like your observance has to be a big production. We live our recovery one day at a time and we live Lent one day at a time. If you slip up on your observance one day, just pick it back up the next day. Don’t sweat it, you are still fulfilling the purpose of the practice by making the effort the next day. All is not lost. Remember, in the kingdom of God everyone struggles and everyone is welcome… even those who slip up on their Lent observance.
Peace, Love, and Recovery,
Shannon, Encourager Coach
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16