Embracing the Journey of Lent

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Rapidly approaching on the Christian calendar is the season of Lent, which is a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays). For many Christians, Lent is a season of repentance and prayer to get ready for the joy of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Whether or not you are Christian or may be Christian and Lent is not a part of your Christian tradition, it’s a good time to reflect on our journey in life and boost your journey in recovery. Lent is supposed to be a reminder of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness filled with fasting and temptation. Those days of deprivation, testing and temptation are familiar to any addict.

Life is a journey. Recovery is a journey. Growth in recovery or any faith is a journey as well. Embracing the concept of allowing life events to unfold as part of a journey facilitates our ability to learn and grow, especially when we try to interpret these events in light of our Higher Power. The concept of a journey teaches us to acknowledge that there is a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Every aspect of the journey offers lessons for us to learn.

From a Christian perspective, the Easter mystery is made manifest in the process of recovery. Those who are authentically engaged in recovery embrace the dying and rising of Christ, and they learn to live that reality in their lives. The seasons of Lent and Easter allow us to bring the beauty of this process into our conscious awareness. Similarly, recovery’s journey is a process of dying to one thing in order to rise into a life that is more full and present than before.

Traditionally, Lent has been a time for people to give up something during those 40 days. Now, it would be easy for those in recovery to say I’m giving up my {insert drug of choice or acting out behavior}. That would make it too easy and possibly mildly flippant as well. It is also common for people to take on something during that time instead of letting something go.

Occasionally, I see people that are reluctant to take on Lent because they don’t think they will measure up. After all, Jesus resisted temptation, and addicts… well, let’s just say the win/loss record has not been favorable to us addicts. For those that are resistant, let me say that recovery isn’t easy. The temptation is everywhere, and the only prize we get for avoiding it is a plastic chip or keychain; however, the value of that plastic chip or keychain keeps going up with each one I get. Lent can give us a quiet space to reflect. We know life has deserts and trying times ahead, and we have to face them. We can take this time for more prayer and reflection on God’s will for our lives and the power to carry that out. Also, it may help before Lent starts to remember once again the Big Book’s advice, “We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program. Willingness, honesty and open mindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable.”

Imagine Lent as a time where we simply remove things from our lives that we want, but perhaps do not need. Giving up chocolate (or social media, which seems to be the new chocolate) for forty days can be a recipe for building mild levels of virtue, but how can you turn that voluntary sacrifice into a lasting experience of faith? Relating our Lenten sacrifice and spiritual practices to what brings success to those in addiction recovery can provide some answers.

One way to approach what to let go of might be in a phrase I hear from many people. It is usually some version of, “I always told myself that I never wanted to end up like that.” This coming out of the mouths of people who did, eventually, turn out like that. It happens without the person realizing it until much later on, when they recognize that the thing they were running from is the thing that has been running them for a long time. Much of it is rooted in fear, which drives our behavior much more than we would like to admit (there is a reason that when we do our fourth-step inventory we dedicate an entire section to our fears).

Constantly reminding yourself of what you are not going to do has never been a strategy that I have seen work out too well. In fact, obsessing over it can have the opposite effect. When the thing we’re trying to remove from our routine is constantly running through our minds, we tend to want it more. We get pulled to it, often without realizing it until it’s too late. Once we do realize it, feelings of shame and unworthiness appear and keep us from believing that we even deserve better. Lost in all of this is the spiritual meaning of Lent in the first place—to unite us with the suffering in the wilderness while shedding our earthly attachments.

Instead of mentally obsessing about that thing you’re looking to give up (whether temporarily or permanently), try shifting your focus on what can be gained.

Written by David Sellers, Spirituality Coordinator

David Sellers served as associate pastor at Parkway Heights from 2005 to 2011. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a member of the Order of St. Luke and part of SDI (Spiritual Directors International). He has over 20 years of experience in ministry as a youth director, retreat leader, hospital chaplain and church pastor. He received his M.Div. from Emory University with emphasis in Spiritual Formation. David facilitates group and one-on-one spiritual direction across all programs at Pine Grove.


About Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services 

Located in Hattiesburg, MS., Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services is one of the nation’s most comprehensive treatment campuses. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs treat gender specific chemical addiction including specialized tracks for co-occurring eating disorders, compulsive behaviors, trauma, and mental health. Additionally, Pine Grove offers an Intensive Outpatient substance abuse healing program for adults and a separate treatment track for those age 55 plus. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual addiction. Inpatient Services including an Adult Psychiatric Unit, along with a Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, and Outpatient Services are other components. Pine Grove is a division of Forrest Health, a partnership of healthcare organizations across South Mississippi, and the behavioral healthcare extension of Forrest General Hospital. Established in 1984, Pine Grove has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for 40 years. For more information about Pine Grove, please visit  www.pinegrovetreatment.com and call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673).


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