I’ve always had a hard time getting truly motivated and excited about setting resolutions for the upcoming year. I think there are many facets to this deficit in enthusiasm; one being that a goal with a year-long duration is a rather daunting prospect. So daunting, that I honestly can’t recall looking back at the end of any of my 22 years and definitively being able to check off a goal set 365 days previously. That’s not to say that my years have been devoid of success, accomplishment, and growth. Despite my flighty nature I've managed to set some serious goals and come through on the other side triumphant, even if they weren't recorded on January 1st. But this is a different New Year. This New Year, I’m in a
Which brought me to my second dilemma; how on earth does someone choose just one, two, or even three endeavors to accomplish in a year? I’m pretty sure there are an infinite number of ways I could improve myself and it seemed, once again, overwhelming to narrow it down to one or two things. Initially, I came up with goals that were so broad as to be almost unenforceable. Things like live a healthier lifestyle, be more positive, do good things for other people- all worthy goals but come on, how do you really evaluate whether you’re following through?
This led me to focus in a concrete way on things I knew I should be curtailing: sweet eating, web-surfing, iPod listening to name a few. As the list got longer I started to feel less sure about this whole idea. Sure, I knew I should spend less time with my electronics while mindlessly munching on unhealthy, processed food, but I wasn’t convinced that my life or the world would be vastly improved if I eliminated these things altogether. That’s when I had a small epiphany and realized that part of the value of resolutions was the self-imposed discipline that they gave one the opportunity to experience. It reminded me of the many times I had brainstormed with my Catholic friends about what they would give up for lent. The lists would include the usual suspects- no chocolate, no soda, or maybe no TV. And to be honest, most of the time the ultimate sacrifice would end up being one of those generic options. But as I watched my friends pass those 40 days without their chocolate or coffee fix I admired their will power, devotion, and satisfaction in fulfilling this duty of their faith. This act of “giving up” was less about improving their lives by reducing the number of grams of sugar they consumed and more about committing to something bigger than themselves. That is when the idea came to me; 2011 would be my year of Lent. And instead of picking one or two things to focus on for the entire year I would pick a different food, luxury, or habit to live without for one, two, or three weeks at a time.
I could tell it was the right idea for me by the fact that I got genuinely excited about it. I was excited about the chance to really master some of my “appetites” without having to bid farewell to my indulgences forever. I was also excited about the reflection and thought that I would experience picking a new “Lenten” sacrifice every few weeks. It just felt right- a year of small sacrifices with the potential for learning some big things about myself.
So I’m ready to start! And in classic Catholic fashion, I’m going to start out by giving up all sweets for the next two weeks, Oy Vey! To my friends and anyone else reading this blog, I will really need your help for this year long venture. I have some ideas of what I want to give up in the coming weeks, but I’d be so grateful for your input, suggestions, and insights. And of course, words of encouragement will be critical in helping me follow through on this ambitious goal. I’ve seen many friends go through forty days of traditional Lent and trust me; I have no illusions about this enterprise. I know it won’t be easy and am certain that I won’t be perfect. But, I believe in the value of sacrifice. When we decide to give up something we not only test our own resolve and willpower, but also begin to see our life and choices from a fresh, new perspective.
As I write these words I’m getting more and more excited about this project. I’ve honestly never been so enthusiastic about abstaining from indulgences and guilty pleasures- a feeling I’m sure will diminish all too soon. But I’m comforted and motivated by the words of Henry Ward Beecher: “It is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.” And since I know that on my modest entry-level government worker salary, I'm not going to end up literally rich (at least not this year) I'm hoping that my ambitious project -- my year of mini-lents -- will be rich in new outlooks, new friends, new stories and maybe new discoveries about just what I do and don't need in life.