Viewpoint: Learning from Lent

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In the Christian world, Lent is a period of time observed by Christians that prepares penitent believers for Easter, reflecting Christ’s 40 day fast in the wilderness. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and culminating in the Holy Week, believers prepare through prayer, penance, sacrifice and alms-giving, allowing for reflection on what they ares doing to make their lives better.

Catholic doctrine explains that “the two elements which are especially characteristic of Lent — the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance … [prepare] the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear Gods word more frequently and devote more time to prayer.”

Catholics are not the only ones who participate in this exercise. From Baptists to Mennonites, modern-day Christians choose to give up something that they consider to be too “rich” and instead focus on what matters most — the Savior.

Many other religions have a same concept, of fasting and praying, of giving to the poor and sacrificing for the greater good. From Ramadan to Thaipusam, cultures adhere to those same concepts. It is through these steps where people, more than just drawing closer to God, come to understand more about who they are. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

More than New Year’s resolutions, these fasts are deeply personal and encourage believers to give up something that might otherwise distract them from drawing closer to their God. At a university where a majority of the student body are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we can easily relate and consider participating in this event ourselves.

Here’s some food for thought. As members of the Church, we fast once a month. Unfortunately, more often than not, we promptly forget about it. Lent gives a person the opportunity to focus on giving up a vice for 40 days. In this way, the person can reflect on and understand the self-control that comes from abstaining. Looking within, the person eventually realizes little changes are making them a better person, not necessarily in a big or profound way, but in a deeper sense of accomplishment and self-fulfillment.

We can appreciate Lent for what it allows us to do: to improve.

One of my friends and his wife decided last year to take a fast from Facebook for Lent. It was a great experience for them, because they were able to accomplish more, spend more time together and focus on God.

By removing distraction, we accomplish more. If you’re watching too much television, stop. If you’re eating too much dessert each week, take a break. By focusing less on physical pleasures and taking time to center your thoughts more on eternal matters, your appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice will increase. While giving up dessert might change your physical waistline, the act might just get you spiritually fat.

I struggled with what I wanted to fast from for this Lenten period. While I originally decided to give soda up, deep down, though, I knew what I needed to take out of my life so I can be more effective, and get the important things done. So, for the next 40 days, I won’t be watching television. No “Modern Family,” no watching “Chopped” on the Food Network, and, most painful of all, no watching through seasons of “Criminal Minds” on DVD, even though I just watched the season finale of season 3. This is going to hurt.

But, that is the point. You’re supposed to sacrifice; it’s supposed to hurt more than a little. No one ever accomplished anything significant or of worth without a little sweat and tears.

So, do it. Take that personal inventory, see what is keeping you from accomplishing what you want, and get rid of it for those 40 days. The minimum you’ll get from it is 40 days of a better life. Though, if you really take the time to reflect, I suspect it will be more worth it than you think.

Ee Chien Chua is a reporter for The Daily Universe. This viewpoint represents his opinion and not necessarily that of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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