For our Christian friends, Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. This is a month of introspection, fasting or acts of service to help deepen their faith. I applaud this idea. Anything that not only helps improve yourself, but also deepens your spiritual beliefs is a win/win in my book. The irony, in my humble opinion, is that next month our Muslim friends celebrate Ramadan. What is that you may ask? It is a month of prayer, fasting and introspection to help deepen their faith. It surprises me how much we all have in common, yet still can find reasons to wage war in the name of God.
What I would like to discuss, is the very act both of these periods of time accomplish and how we view them. In the example of Lent, which is upon us, one is to give up meat on Fridays. A little sacrifice to allow yourself to be more mindful, that is good stuff. If you accidentally eat a salad that has real bacon bits on it, what happens? Do you consider yourself a failure? Have you committed a terrible sin that has offended your creator greatly? No, my guess would be that you may chastise yourself and be a little more focused on what you eat in the future. The purpose here is to become more mindful. If you forgot you gave up eating sweets, as an example, and you accidentally eat a homemade doughnut your girlfriend made in baking class, do you quit and forget the rest of Lent? Of course not. The whole point in doing these activities is to strengthen your faith and your character.
One of the great lessons we can take from these wonderful moments of spiritual introspection is that success and improvement is seldom, if ever, a linear equation. We may stumble. We may make mistakes and not be as mindful or thoughtful as we should be. This does not make us failures and often leads to some of the greatest character building. We have to remember that these challenges make us who we are. We also can use these experiences to practice compassion for ourselves. Whether you are undergoing Lent this month, or Ramadan next month, may you see a great sense of spiritual growth and may you learn to be patient with yourself as well as others.
Even if you do not find yourself following either of these spiritual paths, there is something to be learned about periods of self-improvement and reflection. What we can learn is that we will go backwards and stumble as we make our way forward. A side-effect of improving ourselves or deepening our faith is that we must learn to practice compassion. For ourselves, for others and for the world around us. If we do not, we will not succeed with improving much in our lives, spiritual or otherwise.