For many, lent is solely the past participle of lend, but for those with dirty foreheads today, it marks the Christian season of preparation before Easter. Today is the first day of Lent, or Ash Wednesday, and it is marked by services of penitence. Lent lasts forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays), and is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ––his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection. After all, he fasted and prayed forty days in the wilderness, it should be easy for us to give up something and empathize with Him, right?
Last year I gave up chocolate and was successful. This year I decided to give up refined sugar. I knew it meant I would also face the devil, but I was determined. I lasted until lunch.
Then my perspective shifted. My friend Doug wrote me that he was going to give up ingratitude, because he was pretty sure that gratitude was the key to peace. I have a hunch he’s on to something.
My husband tells our children that to lead a happy life, they must be content with what they already have. Chris has always practiced what he preached, but I'm not always so good about it. I always have more I want to accomplish, and I think about those experiences as "haves" rather than money and what it brings.
I do believe one of the major keys to happiness is gratitude, because in Lent we give up something we enjoy, and we realize how grateful we are for all that we do have. I also believe what my mother taught me about always doing for others. If we get out of our own head and do for others––whether we volunteer to help the less fortunate, or do small acts of kindness––we become less self absorbed and more grateful for what we have.
So, I am going to challenge myself and you may join me if you wish (no matter what your religion), to pay it forward during the next forty days, and hopefully habits will form. Whether we mail a card to a loved one, deliver a box of Girl Scout cookies to a shut-in, shovel a neighbor's drive, or just post a message to a Facebook friend we have not seen in a while, that small act can cause ripples in some places and a chain reaction in others. How cool would that be! Then, journal about what we appreciate, and thank God. I believe that is the meaning of evolution.
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