Back in the spring of 1980, determined to win spiritual glory at age 7, I boldly proclaimed my intention to go 40 days without playing with any of my Stars Wars action figures. Around Day 3, the import of this promise hit home as I opened my carrying case and sadly gazed upon Chewbacca, Ben Kenobi and all their buddies, well-rested in their individual slots and ready for battle.
“You know what?” I said to myself. “I believe my actual promise was that I wouldn’t play with the top tray of action figures. The lower tray, with Walrus Man, Boba Fett and company is still fair game.” By Day 7, I’d abandoned the resolution altogether, and, if Jesus was aware of this, it still didn’t stop the Easter Bunny from arriving.
Many other failed attempts at sacrificing TV, soda, chocolate and other temptations followed through childhood. In college, someone suggested the novel idea of committing to a positive new habit instead of simply giving something up, and that became my mantra throughout the Clinton Administration and well into Bush II. The aims were ambitious – increased prayer, more exercise, writing schedules, improved diet. In the end, they all proved about as successful as my brief abstention from Han Solo.
When my son was born during Lent ten years ago, I dispensed with making resolutions altogether. Getting up at all hours of the night, enduring the unbelievable barrage of illnesses he brought home from daycare and generally learning to put my own needs near the end of the line seemed like a big enough project. I brushed up on this training regimen with my newborn daughter a few years later. And, to be honest, it’s only been quite recently, as in the past few days, that I’ve once again begun seriously considering a Lenten resolution that I might adhere to for 40 days.
Past failures have taught me this: It’s probably better to pick a modest goal and hit it out of the park than to swing for the fences and end up whiffing badly. Brain research confirms this hunch; it’s actually tough to change any of our habits, and the more ambitious the goal the more likely we are to lose momentum in the day-to-day grind. We need small wins to build momentum, and we need to sustain them for several weeks to months to make the new habit stick.
So this time around, I’m keeping it simple. At least once a day, when I feel the urge to surf the web for more meaningless information, I will meditate instead on a passage from one of my favorite books on faith and prayer – Carlo Carretto’s Letters from the Desert, Jim Martin’s Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything or perhaps Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God.
Instead of constantly checking my phone, I’ll try to put random, spare moments to a worthwhile purpose. It’s a challenge worthy of a Jedi.