Today marks Ash Wednesday, the kick-off of Lent. It is my favorite day of the Church calendar and, quite frankly, one of my favorite celebrations of the year.
Whether or not you are religious, the take-away message from this liturgical season is powerful.
The religious founding of Ash Wednesday uses fasting to connect Christians to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. Fasting for the Lenten season extends beyond abstaining from food at certain hours of the day.
In my Catholic elementary school, we had Lenten promise sticker charts. Every student in the class “gave up” something for Lent in the traditional, sacrificial way: no TV, no ice cream, no Legos until Easter. (Sundays could be freebies as they are not counted in the 40 days of Lent, but bonus stickers to those who kept their promise all the way through.)
As I grew older, my Lenten promises became more personal: no complaining, no fighting with my sisters.
Into my high school years, I revolutionized my Lenten promises by omitting the “no” and spinning my sacrificial task into an affirmative action: sacrifice time to read every night or practice piano every day.
And still, my Lenten promises developed into something more. Nowadays, I don’t give up something in the typical sense. Instead, I do something. Sure, it requires that element of precious time but above that, it makes me a better person. And, I hope, offers a sparkle of joy into the life of someone else on each of the 40 days.
You can choose whether or not to be a part of Lent. If you choose to explore this time, your level of participation is also up to you. I have known more than just Catholics and Christians to follow Lenten promises; even some of my atheist friends love Lent.
I believe Lent is a season that brings people together, that encourages us to look beyond religious labels and dive deeply into ourselves. In my experience, it is worth embracing something that pushes us to be the best version of ourselves and make the world a better place.