We are now a week into the Lenten season, I am frequently hearing from those around me, “I just can’t seem to stick to my Lenten resolutions.”
I can easily identify with this frustration since I have often struggled with this issue myself in the past, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly why that was.
My insight about this began to come about as I read an article entitled, “Why is it So Hard to Stick to Good Habits?” by James Clear, author of the book, Atomic Habits. In this article, he talks about how we tend to want to do life-changing things, but we don’t change our lifestyle.
He explains beautifully how it’s really great to for you to have big goals that will change your life, but he also points out that we can’t change our life without changing the habits that form our life. (Emphases mine)
This article got me to thinking about how this is true for our spiritual lives as well. For when we take this understanding and apply it to our spiritual lives, we can gain some valuable insight into why we tend to break our Lenten resolutions.
Because during Lent, we tend to be really inspired to try and go for the life-changing spiritual goal (like becoming a saint), without adequately reflecting upon how we need to change our spiritual lifestyle habits first, so then we can achieve that life changing goal of becoming a saint.
To use an analogy, it’s like wanting to do a marathon without doing the necessary running and training before the marathon.
I can speak to this BIG time because of my own endurance running and multisport athletic efforts that I have done in my own life.
I have been blessed to have successfully completed numerous marathons and triathlons, including Ironman Canada where I swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles, and the Pikes Peak Marathon which consists of running up and down the 14,000 foot Pikes Peak mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
I share this because the success I did find was integrally related to the amount and type of preparation that I did before I attempted to complete the race.
In the same way, we need to recognize that the desires in our heart to draw closer to God, to become more like Jesus, and to become a holy man or woman, have been placed there by God. And it is good to respond to those desires.
And it is these desires that are the source of our Lenten resolutions. We desire change in our spiritual life, and we make our Lenten resolutions.
So why are we not able to stick to them?
Very simple, we don’t really want to change.
Our human condition is such that although we say we want our spiritual lives to change, we often tend not to be truly willing to make the changes necessary to bring about the very thing we say we want.
So what do we do? Not make resolutions for Lent anymore? Give up trying to change?
No, we don’t give up.
(By the way, Satan would be thrilled if we did that, but we are NOT going to give him that satisfaction, are we?)
Rather, we should focus on making Lenten resolutions that will have us make tiny changes in our spiritual habits that eventually will transform our daily habits which will then ensure that we will eventually accomplish our deepest desires.
Simply, we start so small that it’s easy to make the change, and then we build upon that change tiny change by tiny change, until it become a BIG change.
In other words, we don’t start out by trying to run a marathon. Instead we walk around the block.
So, if you want to grow closer to God in prayer, and don’t have a habit of daily prayer yet, make a resolution to spend 5 minutes each morning in prayer, and then work to increase that by 2%.
Or if you have a habit of daily prayer, then increase it by 2% each week until you reach whatever your goal is.
Or if you want to read more of the Bible, make a resolution to read a paragraph from one of the Gospels each day during your lunch break, and then increase how much you read each day by 2% each week.
(There’s whole story behind the 2% increase concept that you can read about in James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. You’ll really like it if you are a cycling fan like I am!)
But the key to not breaking your Lenten resolutions is to understand how God normally transforms each one of us–little by little.
It’s extremely rare and usuaul that God suddenly “zaps” someone with His Holy Spirit and they become completely different. Even St Paul had a “thorn” in his side to contend with after his conversion, so we know he didn’t complete change who he was despite doing a 180 on persecuting Christians!
But my final thought on why we break our Lenten resolutions is that it’s because we tend to rely on our own strength to fulfill them versus relying on God, and therein might be our real issue.
But that’s a conversation for another day.
In the meantime, if you have found that you have broken your Lenten resolutions, don’t give up. Just readjust a little and rely on God.
Because in Him, through Him and with Him, we can do all things.