(First published February 8, 2016)
Some of my friends with spiritual interests anticipate Lent with a sense of gratitude. They are thankful for what they learn about themselves through the disciplines of giving up and of moving toward God. They appreciate the invitation to participate with others known as the Body of Christ.
I have other friends who argue a bit and ask questions about some of the practices or formats. They aren’t sure that leaders who can’t discipline themselves should be calling others to obedience. They question the appearance of legalism in the practices of fasting and solitude, in serving others and denying self. But they aren’t antagonistic. In fact, because they are committed to growing well themselves, they appreciate the structure.
I have other friends who observe it, but only with community. They need to know others are doing this too, because it gives them a sense of accountability. In fact, some of them love Lent because they can’t quite bring themselves to this kind of discipline on their own. And now that their resolutions have started to fade, they are looking forward to the discipline of Lent being a fresh start.
And truthfully, some of my friends ignore Lent completely because they don’t need anyone telling them how to prepare for Easter. And they kind of laugh at anyone who needs that kind of pressure.
Rubin wrote Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. She argues that the place to start changing our habits is with the question “How does a person respond to an expectation?” (16)
I’ve been thinking a lot about habits and about practical steps for spiritual growth. I watch the way one person says, “This is what I do, you need to do this, too.” And the way another person responds with, “That’s crazy. Why do you need that kind of plan. All you need to do is this.” It’s possible that both are wrong. And both are right.
Or better, it’s possible that each has different answers to Rubin’s question about expectations. She says that some people are comfortable meeting internal and external expectations (upholders). A second group question the external expectations, but are committed to meeting their internal expectations (questioners). A third group meet external expectations, but struggle to meet their expectations for themselves (obligers). And some people resist any expectations, internal or external (rebels).
As you consider observing Lent this year, and as you listen to others talk about why they will or won’t, listen for these tendencies. Spend less time being frustrated by how others aren’t the same as you. And spend more time seeing how you might grow by understanding your tendency.
I’m an obliger, by the way. I struggle to meet my own deadlines, pursue projects on my own. However, when I know that I’m modeling something for others, it gives me focus. For example, my running streak (250 days of consecutive running) isn’t because I’m so disciplined. It’s partially because I want to help others see that even undisciplined people can do consistent things. And, by telling you about it, it helps me keep going longer.