Have you ever made a sacrifice for Lent?
When I was young, my parents encouraged participation in this season of reflection.
However, as a kid, giving up candy or soda for 40 days was the worst kind of punishment. I never fully understood the tradition. In my mind, the only connection between no chocolate and Jesus’ sacrifice was immeasurable suffering (I was a very dramatic child).
In my most recent attempt, I gave up television, alcohol, eating out at restaurants and dating, all at the same time, for 40 days. I made it about a week and a half.
Recently, I came across the blog of a guy in Nashville who has made the decision to give up one “time-waster” at a time for one week. I find the idea incredibly intriguing.
So, in the spirit of Lent and (hopefully) as an encouragement to Scott, I’ve taken some time to analyze my own failures.
Many mistakes I’ve made are common in developing the habit of self-discipline.
I hope that, through the lessons I’ve learned, others may succeed in their own endeavors (Lent-inspired or otherwise).
Here are the 4 biggest mistakes made (and lessons to learn) during the season of Lent.
1. Giving up too much for too long
“Rome wasn’t built in a day”
“You’ve gotta learn to crawl before you can walk”
Phrase it however you’d like, but many of us overestimate our own will-power.
An idea pops into our head, and suddenly all of our time and energy is thrown into executing that idea. It goes great for about a week until burnout hits.
I’ve become excruciatingly familiar with this cycle. In my recent attempt, I gave up the four pillars of my daily routine (wow how depressing that is to
I tried to change my life – not in 40 days, but immediately.
Lesson learned: Start small.
Give up one idol for a short period of time. To eliminate multiple bad habits, begin with the easiest. Give that up for 2 weeks. Then, add on vice #2 for two more weeks. Then vice #3 and so on.
Had I taken this strategy, all 4 idols would have been addressed without shocking my entire way of life.
2. Focusing on the loss rather than the gains.
It’s clear these habits and vices are harmful – that’s why we try to give them up. Rarely, though, do we realize just how much a part of our everyday lives they’ve become.
It’s important to nail down exactly why the change is necessary.
To be more productive? To be closer to God? To have more time with friends and family?
When I gave up my 4 idols for Lent, the reason was pretty shallow. They are idols, and therefore bad, and Lent is as good a time as any.
When friends asked why I wouldn’t go out or watch the newest Game of Thrones, I simply said, “It’s a church thing.”
By the end, the majority of my energy was spent trying not to slip. The fight to stay strong and the inevitable fall led to a week-long binge on the vices I’d been “deprived of”. It wasn’t pretty.
Lesson learned: Focus on the gains.
Eliminating addictions not only adds to productivity, but allows the activities to be seen as they are – fun bonuses to the day – rather than a need to center life around.
3. Trying to do it alone
Insisting on success by our own strength leads to late nights sitting alone in the living room, staring at a blank television.
There’s an easier way.
The idea came from Kelly Minter’s convicting No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols bible study. The study brings awareness to everything in life placed higher than God.
The fact that alcohol, food, television and boys took up the large part of my heart turned my stomach.
I was attempting to make room for my relationship with God, but was operating on my own strength.
Yes, I prayed over the endeavor before I began. I prayed every day for the strength to hold out – to resist.
But for two weeks, those 4 vices completely dominated my mind. I centered my life around avoiding them.
Lesson learned: Don’t try to do this alone.
If I could do it again, I’d prayerfully consider His method of doing things (and whether it was His will to go on an “idol fast” at all). I would rely on His strength to succeed, rather than try to prove my own strength.
A support system is vital.
Someone to help when things get hard and you’re tempted to give up completely.
So if you’re trying to give up something at home, go out with your friends. If you’re trying to avoid going out, invite your family over for a distraction. Don’t fight the battle alone.
4. Not expecting your life to change
We want to have the cake and eat it too (I’m really big on the cliché’s today).
We cannot continue to live the same life minus the harmful activities. I learned this lesson the hard way.
I’d go to the restaurant or bar with my friends, and watch them eat and drink while I sat with only water, stomach rumbling.
I’d sit in the kitchen while my family watched TV, listening to the show and calling it “family time”.
I’d spend alone time with the man I was interested in, justifying it with “we’re just friends” and “it’s not a date”.
I wanted to continue living my life, just minus the bad parts. And nothing changed.
Lesson learned: When you remove an integral daily activity, life has to change accordingly.
Vices and idols are dangerous because our lives center around them. Therefore, to cut out the vices, life has to be centered around something else.
Focus on the reason, not the method. Remember what you’re making room for.
In hindsight, I should have spent that time alone with God.
Rather than numbing myself with alcohol and television, I should have been trying to grow more alive in Christ.
Rather than wasting time and money on food and dates, I should have been growing deeper in His word.
I should have remembered what it was all about – making room for God.
I believe then I would have found success.
So, to Scott, and to anyone else seeking to rid your life of unnecessary idols and time-wasters, I hope you’ve found some encouragement here.
A final piece of advice: remember what you’re fighting for.
Eliminate a hindrance to your relationship with God or the important people in your life by spending time in the Word, in prayer, or with those you love.
Eliminate a time-waster or develop a habit of self-discipline by finding a (productive) replacement for the vice. Read a book, add a few minutes to your exercise routine or pick up a new hobby.
Photo Credit: Lars Kasper
Do you participate in the season of Lent? Have you ever tried to give up an idol? Leave a comment letting me know your habits for self-discipline.
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