Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Holy Envy Strikes Again! Or, A Lenten Observation...

Lent isn't a standard observance in LDS practice, but, again with the "holy envy" (see this earlier post), I'm really drawn to the idea of spiritually preparing for Easter.  As with most holidays, Easter surprises me almost every year.  I think the floating date catches me off guard...sometimes it's in March, sometimes it's in April, how's a girl supposed to keep it straight?  (For future reference, please note that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox.  Easy as pie!  M'kay?  So, now that we've got that all cleared up...)

For most Christians, there are two Major Holidays every year: Christmas and Easter.  I have no trouble remembering Christmas, or getting in the Christmas spirit.  There are Christmas decorations up and Christmas music playing and Christmas candy for sale everywhere starting shortly after Labor Day, it seems.  It's kind of hard to miss.  Besides that, many families have traditions that help "count down" to the big day.  Our family has an advent book of sorts.  A few years ago I revamped one my sister-in-law had given us several years before to include more scriptural references, lesser-known Christmas carols, and heart-warming stories of the season.  We'd miss a few days during the crazy busy holiday season, but most evenings we'd sit down at bedtime and have a few minutes to focus on the "reason for the season."  Of course they still love the presents part of Christmas - they're kids, after all - but for at least a tiny portion of the day they were getting the spiritual aspect of the holiday, too.

But there really was nothing of the sort for Easter, arguably the more important commemoration of the two.  (Side note: I remember one Easter Sunday when the only mention of the holiday during my regular church services was a perfunctory "Happy Easter!" by the person conducting the meeting and the special musical number by the choir.  Not every Easter is that bad, but in general, we Mormons have got to do better at recognizing and celebrating Easter.)

I was really feeling this lack a couple of years ago when I received a review copy of Eric Huntsman's God So Loved the World: The Final Days of the Savior's Life. (You can read my review on goodreads or in my article on Meridian Magazine.)  I read it and loved it.  It even earned one of my coveted 5-star ratings on goodreads; I don't hand too many of those out.  So I assembled an "advent" book for the week before Easter that we've used the last two years.  Similar to the Christmas advent book, it includes scriptures that cover the events of that day of Holy Week, an Easter hymn, and a short Easter story.  I've really enjoyed using that as a family to get ready for Easter.  But for me, personally, a week just didn't seem long enough, especially compared to the veritable circus surrounding Christmas.  If only there were a period of time set aside, say a month or a little longer, to spiritually prepare for Easter, a time during which I could make some small sacrifice that would be a daily reminder of Christ's sacrifice and ultimate victory over death and hell...hmmmm...

Hey!  How 'bout Lent!

Last year, I decided to give up facebook for Lent and use the time I had been spending on facebook to read my scriptures more and connect more with people in real life.  I actually enjoyed my "facebook fast" eventually; the withdrawal headaches and uncontrolled twitching only lasted a few days.  Seriously, though, it was a useful exercise in re-balancing.  Facebook had slowly weaseled its way into taking an inordinate amount of time from my day and cutting it out cold turkey for six weeks made that all too obvious.

So this year I was pondering what I could do for Lent that would likewise serve to help me re-balance as it helped me prepare for Easter.  What in my life had gotten out of whack and was taking up a disproportionate amount of my time and energy, distracting me from the good things I could be doing?  I pondered a few different options before settling on the one I *really* didn't want to tackle.

The last several months, I've been allowing negative thoughts to spend far too much time in residence in my head; even during my Ramadan experiment, the part I struggled with most was limiting my negative thoughts (check out my post-Ramadan self-evaluation here).  A brief section in a book I reviewed here a little while ago, To Sell Is Human by Daniel H. Pink, mentioned that the ideal ratio of positive to negative thoughts or emotions was between 3:1 and 10:1.  More than that and you're living in a rose-colored, unrealistic haze, less than that and your resilience and well-being suffer.  And honestly, dear readers, there have been many days of late when I'd really be stretching to say I had three positive thoughts for every negative one.  So for Lent, I'm not so much giving up negative emotions as I'm trying to replace them, or at least vastly outnumber them.

As with my "Ramadan-lite" experience, I'm massaging the standard Lenten practices a bit to fit my needs and reflect my purposes, so I guess you could call this "Lent-lite."  Forget the standard Lent dietary restrictions; I'm not fasting, or abstaining from meat or dairy, or eating only fish on Fridays.  Just focusing on increasing my ratio of positive thoughts to negative thoughts.  Now, I'm a bit late posting this initial announcement since Lent started last Wednesday, but I plan to post weekly updates on how it's going.  So, stay tuned...

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