In this personal reflection, Linda Jones of our Theology Team says that if we want to make real changes in our lives during Lent, we need to take new pathways.
Lent is a time for change. How often have we read that? It’s one of those statements that we know to be true but doesn’t always hit home. Is it just a second chance at those New Year’s Resolutions, just as quickly abandoned?
I remember going to see a CBT therapist to work on a phobia. The first thing she asked me was, ‘Do you believe change is possible?’ It made me stop and think. Did I? I had experienced many failures in trying to bring about change, and those failures weighed heavily on my mind. What I really thought was, ‘I wish change were possible, but I believe I will fail.’
So yes, Lent is a time for change. But what makes change possible?
Set a different pathway
A couple of years ago I met a wonderful environmental psychologist, Dr Katharina Beyerl, from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Berlin. We were talking about why change seems to be so difficult in the case of the climate crisis. It’s difficult even when we know and accept that the crisis is very real.
She explained that we are ‘wired up’ to take the easy route – down our habitual pathways. For example, when I used to work in an office, I would always stop en route at the same café for a double espresso and a croissant. My feet pretty much took me there all by themselves. I didn’t have to make a decision. And my brain loved that! It was easy.
I knew it wasn’t good for me, but it felt as though I couldn’t stop doing it. Katharina said the way to change was literally to create a different pathway – to get off the bus at a different stop.
Decide what you will change
During Lent, we are trying to create different pathways. The first step is to become aware of what we want to change.
This year I have realised how much I take for granted. Just a few days ago I was waiting for a COVID test result. I knew that if it were positive, I would be in for a tough time, because of some health conditions that I live with.
I looked out at the hills in the distance and thought, ‘There is so much beauty here, just outside my window. What if I never see it again?’ It suddenly seemed so precious, so beautiful!
I decided to focus for a few minutes every day this Lent on one beautiful thing in my life. I will aim to appreciate and to be grateful. Can I hold onto that sense of all that is precious to me? Can I remember to thank God for every single moment of life that I have been granted?
I believe change is possible, but I have tried many times to set aside time for contemplation and prayer – and failed more times than I care to share! I usually tell myself it’s because I’m too busy.
Be an everyday disciple
This makes me think of Martha and Mary. Recently I was reflecting on what Meister Eckhart, the German mystic, said about Martha’s model of discipleship. He insisted that it has value, even though so much praise is usually given to Mary in this story. He suggests that even in the midst of a busy life, Martha is able to focus on the importance of her friendship with Jesus.
‘Martha was so well grounded in her essence that her activity was no hindrance to her: work and activity she turned to her eternal profit.’
Meister Eckhart, Sermon 9
He points out that Martha has an active and integrated spirituality, rather than being too distracted by her daily tasks to commit to prayer and contemplation.
Other interpretations suggest that both Martha and Mary become highly respected leaders in the early Christian community. Perhaps they have different leadership styles from each other, but both bring something for us to learn.
Make space for gratitude
It seems, then, that there are a couple of different routes I could take to make my commitment to appreciation and gratitude a reality. I could place a chair near a window and take a few minutes to contemplate the beauty before me. Or encourage myself to be mindful whilst carrying out routine daily tasks.
There is more than one way to bring about change. What will work for you?
Lent gives us the opportunity to pay particular attention to the process of change. To become aware of what we want to change and to practise daily, until it becomes our new pathway. We can learn to get off at a different stop.
Conversion to a different way of life is possible. Just like the amazing women who started Family Fast Day, we believe a different world is possible and we can all play our part.