Lent begins on Wednesday, March 6th. For those of you who are not familiar with it, Lent is the 40-ish days leading up to Easter and is observed primarily by the Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian religions. It is a time when people often give something up (like chocolate or drinking) or vow to do something good (like pray or volunteer more) as way to honor the life, suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.
I’m not very religious, but two years ago, I went big for Lent–I gave up sweets, social media, hard liquor, and men. It was a trivial decision at the time—almost a joke, really. But the consequences weren’t trivial at all.
These days, life is so busy. We wake up, check our phones, get ready for work, play podcasts in traffic, spend the day bouncing between emails, meeting requests, and never-ending to-do lists, commute home streaming music to keep us sane, power through a work out—or happy hour—and cap the day catching up on our shows before dragging ourselves to bed to rest up and do it all over again tomorrow. Our weekends are filled with brunches, happy hours, parties, concerts, girls’ nights, guys’ nights, and date nights. We barely have time to breathe before the circus—I mean Monday—comes back around.
Think of how different this is. Generations before us spent their time farming, knitting, gardening, chopping wood, reading, fishing, sowing. These activities were done alone and in silence. They weren’t interrupted by an alert or sidetracked by a snap. It’s like our devices, as great as they can be, have devised a life that is void of any quiet time. Modern times have moved into the space where we used to just breathe or think. Instead of strolling, we’re now scrolling, not talking but tweeting, online rather than outside.
And oddly enough, all that connection has left us disconnected from ourselves.
I realize now my Lenten sacrifices, from the booze to the boys, were really just distractions. They very successfully kept my attention outward instead of inward. And when I removed them, it left me alone with myself for 40ish days for maybe the first time in 30ish years. And it forever changed my life.
Because when you remove your distractions, whatever they may be, it leaves room for something incredible to happen.
You can sit with yourself, eat with yourself, walk with yourself, talk with yourself, and listen with yourself. You can reminisce about your life and the choices you have made. You can have brutally honest conversations with yourself about all your past relationships. You can think about the future and set goals. You can evaluate your lifestyle and what you are willing to change. You can push yourself to think differently, to figure out what you want, and ultimately to own your life.
It might not be easy. Like me, you’ve probably never spent that much time with yourself. And as with any two people who’ve never spent a long time alone together, there will be moments of frustration. There will be times you won’t like each other and times you just want space from one another. And it will be in those moments that you realize the space you crave is what you typically fill with whatever you removed. It’s the uncomfortable moments with ourselves that cause us to pull out our phones, pick up a drink, or turn on the TV. But if you can push through those moments, if you can stay with yourself, you will find a way to coexist. You will find connection. And you will come out knowing and understanding yourself like never before.
So no matter what your beliefs, don’t think of Lent in terms of a religion. Think of it in terms of a restart, a return, and a recover. Use it as a time to reflect and reconnect. Use it as a time to pause, to let go of the noise, and to hold onto yourself.