When Lent Becomes a Lifestyle

What a wonderful time of the year. The sun is out; temperatures are increasing; flowers are blooming; and He is risen. It truly is the Easter Season. A season of new beginnings. So why did I feel so melancholy on Easter Sunday?

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For the first time in my life, as Easter came and went this year, I found myself feeling different. I felt somewhat sad. I felt like something was ending. Easter is supposed to be a new beginning, and I was feeling the opposite. It wasn’t until my wife and I were listening to Matthew Kelly’s final message from his wonderful “Best Lent Ever” program that I began to really pinpoint the feelings I was having.

You see, for the first time in my life (noticing a pattern yet), I truly abstained from something that had normally been a staple in my life. I made the decision to “give up” alcohol for Lent. I’ve always been a social drinker. Drinking is something that normally makes me feel good. Drinking usually makes me feel relaxed and confident. But, as I get older and try to live my life more intentionally, it wasn’t making me feel those things. It really wasn’t making me “feel” anything at all.

Living life more intentionally for me had meant eating better, working out more and cutting back on drinking. For Lent, I wanted to go from “cutting back” to “cutting out.” Therefore, this Lent, I was ready to challenge myself. I hoped this challenge would bring me closer to my faith and help me truly experience what Lent is supposed to mean for Catholics.

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What is Lent supposed to mean for Catholics? I’m glad you asked. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ. The better the preparation, the more effective the celebration will be. The purpose of Lent is to provide spiritual purification by weaning from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating the desire to do God’s will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in our hearts.”

Ok, that’s a mouthful. So what does that really mean? Or should I say, what does that mean to me and why did I decide to “give up” alcohol for Lent? To me, abstaining from alcohol and depriving myself of something that once made me feel good, would make me truly focus on what is important in my life. I hoped it also would help me reflect on areas of my life that need improvement. By doing these things and atoning for my sins, I hoped I would be become closer to God.

And you know what’s great? It worked. I think I had the best Lent ever. I think I possibly had my best Triduum ever. For sure, my best Easter ever. It’s truly been a life-changing experience. A sacred experience. Why then was I feeling melancholy? I mean, I had done it. I had abstained from alcohol for more than 40 days. I had kept up my other habits of exercise, diet and prayer. And I’d lost weight doing it!

I think these feelings manifested initially because the end of Lent was somehow signaling the possible end of this new, better version of myself. But why would that be the case? Just because I “could” drink alcohol again, does it mean I “had” to?

The more I thought about things and prayed about these feelings, the answer became clear. I don’t have to change anything. I don’t have to drop these new habits because Lent is over. I can turn my Lenten lifestyle into my everyday lifestyle.

Sure I can enjoy a drink now and again. A glass of wine with dinner when we are at our favorite restaurant. A brown drink or a beer on a Friday when I’ve had a long week. I may even indulge at a happy hour with work colleagues. But, because of my Lenten sacrifices, I no longer have that need for alcohol at certain times. I don’t need it to fill a void. I don’t need it to make me feel content.

I can enjoy alcohol responsibly and still maintain a healthy lifestyle and make healthy choices that keep me on the way to becoming the best version of myself.

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I’ve talked before about celebrating progress. And about focusing on progress not perfection. I think that mindset is what helped me succeed this Lent. At first I didn’t recognize my accomplishment because the melancholy crept in. After some prayer and reflection, I realized I could celebrate the progress gained with these new lifestyle choices and share my experience with this post. I also could build on this progress and work to maintain these habits.

So are you making progress? It’s an important question to ask yourself. Through this Lenten sacrifice, I think I’ve made significant progress. The reason I make this point again is because when I am making progress, I find I am a happier person than when I am obsessing about perfection. Progress brings us to life!

When we sense that we are making progress, we tend to be filled with passion, energy, enthusiasm, purpose, and a real and sustainable joy. Progress fills us with gratitude for the now and hope for the future. Progress creates enduring happiness.

Are you making progress? Are you a better person today than you were a year ago? Are you happier? More fulfilled? Are you a better spouse? boyfriend? girlfriend? parent? employee? employer? teammate? colleague? friend? Are you healthier?

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I’ll close with a quote from Matthew Kelly whose programs and teaching via Dynamic Catholic have truly changed my life. Consider these words when striving to be a better version of yourself. Sometimes the tiniest of changes can make a huge impact on our lives.

“Most people will tell you that they would prefer to live happier lives, but how much time do they actually spend thinking about how they could create and live a happier life? The preference never becomes desire. The desire never becomes action. But they will spend their whole lives preferring a happier life.

Preference is not enough. Progress requires desire and action. The Gospel rearranges our priorities and challenges us to actively seek what God wants in every area of life.

It is not possible to create a genuinely happier life while not also making the world a better place. So let us progress in the direction of happier lives and a better world to pass on to our children and grandchildren.”

What lifestyle changes can you make to progress toward a happier life?

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