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Immediate and Delayed Gratification for Lent and Beyond

Was reading an article today entitled “The Evolution of Anxiety: Why We Worry and What to Do About It.” by James Clear, author of the book, Atomic Habits.

Why am I highlighting an article concerned primarily with behavioral psychology and stress management? Because yesterday marked the beginning of the season of Lent for most of the Christian world.

(I say most because my fellow Orthodox do not begin Lent for another week. But I digress…)

So what does Lent have to do with stress? Well, the image above might give you a clue.

Lent is FULL of things that we SHOULD be doing in our spiritual lives.

Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. Penance. Sacrifice. Reconciliation. Bible Studies. Stations of the Cross. Online Courses. Daily Gospel Reflections. Daily Quotes.

The list goes on.

In a way, you could almost make the argument that Ash Wednesday seems like a Christian version of “New Years” with just a different version of resolutions to have. And unfortunately, just like at New Years, having to come up with resolutions just stresses people out.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I LOVE this season. (Yes, I am one of those strange people who likes challenges–regardless of what they may be!)

But I have to admit that even I was feeling stressed by the overwhelming number of choices that were presented for me in which I could deepen my relationship with Christ, grow in knowledge of my faith, and serve others with love and mercy.

And that brings me back to James’ article. It’s a really great and informative read about how our brains were designed to live in an Immediate Return Environment, but due to advances in civilization, particularly in the last 500 years, we are now living predominantly in a Delayed Return Environment, and that has resulted in a WHOLE bunch of stress in our lives that causes LOTS of anxiety and worry.

James’ article goes on to give a lot of excellent practical ways that we can respond to the stress in our lives, primary one being that we develop strategies to make sure that our daily routine both rewards you right away (immediate return) and resolves your future problems (delayed return).

This approach can be applied to our spiritual life as well, particularly during this holy season of Lent as we are struggling to live out resolutions.

Want to develop a consistent prayer life? Then focus on praying 10 minutes today.

Want to develop an attitude of sacrifice? Then freely accept one thing in your life each day that you do not like, did not choose, or cannot change.

Desire to give alms generously? Begin by selecting one item a day that you have not used in the last 6 months and give it to a local Thrift store.
Want reconciliation and peace in your life? Then forgive your spouse, or your friend, or your neighbor.
As Saint Mother Teresa said, “Be the change that you want to see.”
And THAT is the essence of Lent. To become more like Christ.
So don’t stress about your Lenten resolutions. Simply accept and do the things that God has placed before you with love each day.
Am betting that you will discover great joy in the immediate gratification of growing closer to Christ during this Lenten season, and with God’s grace, perhaps also the delayed gratification of someday becoming a saint and being with Him in Heaven for all eternity.
And THAT is the whole point of the spiritual life to begin with.