“Forty days,” the experts say, “it takes to break a bad habit. Give or take a week or so.” 

“Forty days,” they say, “it takes to form a good one.”

“Forty days,” we say, “it takes to change a heart.”

Or forty years.

Or a lifetime!

Give or take a week or so.

And so, each year, we give it another shot. Conversion. Metanoia. Change of heart.

The specifics of the required change vary from person to person – though not greatly. There is a pretty predictable list of sins to address. We need to trade in duplicity for honesty.  Pride for humility. We are called to move from egoism to altruism. From greed to generosity. We ought to weed out laziness, apathy and intolerance. And always, always, always, we can become more loving.

Our individual sins also vary from year to year – though, again, not greatly. We are born with particular temperaments and dispositions which are usually blessings married to afflictions. We want organized, controlling people to build bridges and highways and to keep our finances in order. We are not so thrilled when dealing with them on committees. We want creative, whimsical folks to dance and sing and act for us. We are not so happy with them on committees, either. (Perhaps committees are the problem.) Or, perhaps, it is our inability to love beyond our differences. We can add that to our list of ways in which our hearts might be changed.

When we begin to look at all the ways in which we might grow in holiness and love, we can feel a little overwhelmed at our need for conversion (unless our root sin is pride, in which case, we’ve probably become overwhelmed by the way in which SO many other people around us need to change!) I remember as child, I would begin Lent thinking I would give up treats, stop fighting with my sisters, be polite to my parents, keep my room clean and stop biting my nails. I rarely made it to the end of the week. And I always felt like I was a complete failure as a disciple. But Lent is not about being paralyzed by guilt. Paralyzing guilt doesn’t help us grow.  

Believing that we are created good by God, knowing that we are incredibly adept at change and growth and engaging in healthy, intentional practices which move towards that growth – these are the things help us become better people.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann taught that fasting ought to be “limited and humble, but consistent and serious.” I think this can be applied to our Lenten efforts in general. If we choose only one particular aspect of our lives which we know to be in need of work and spend a concerted effort working on that aspect, we can accomplish real change in our lives. 

Especially if we work on it for forty days.

Or forty years.

Or a lifetime.

Give or take a week.

Christine Way Skinner

Christine Way Skinner is a Lay Pastoral Associate at St. John Chrysostom Parish in Newmarket, ON. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theology degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. Christine loves trying to find inclusive, compelling and creative ways to pass on the church’s 2000 year old traditions. She also loves art, playing music, reading, gardening and playing board games with her children. Christine’s numerous publications can be found and purchased here.

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