I’ve noticed a pattern in my own life. In times of transition, like the start of a semester or the start of summer, it takes time to adjust to being in that new situation and to remember how to live on that particular schedule and in that environment. But once I complete that adjustment and establish a routine, it becomes very hard to change some habits. For example, early in the semester I may need to stay up late to do homework since I’m trying to remember how to manage my time. Then a few weeks later, when I set myself up to go to bed early, I feel like I can afford to waste time on Facebook or playing games on my phone, and I end up going to bed no earlier than normal.
I feel like this struggle was best exemplified last semester. Normally, I am involved in several organizations on campus and have very little free time that I do not have to allot to studies. However, last semester I was studying abroad, temporarily freeing me from all those commitments. I had more free time than I knew what to do with. I got in the habit of spending a lot of my time on YouTube or Netflix. So later in the semester, when I had to do a school project, make travel plans, or complete some task, I could not get myself to do it, despite my abundance of time. My habits of just doing whatever I wanted with my time were too deeply ingrained in me.
Often, at this point in the semester, there is at least one bad habit that we’ve established that we would like to change. For this, I believe Lent comes at a perfect time for us (and note that the Nativity Fast comes at a similar time in the fall semester). We have an invitation from the Church to focus on our habits, on the routine that we have established for ourselves, and really analyze it. What are we doing that works towards our salvation? What are we doing that takes us away from God? How are we succeeding or failing in our relationships? How well are we fulfilling our various roles as students, friends, employees, relatives, teammates, and Christians?
The reality is that we can conduct this analysis any time. But the beauty of this time in particular is that we are not alone. Perhaps we find encouragement from our friends that we see at OCF meetings, perhaps we find it from our friends’ Facebook posts that we know only the Orthodox truly understand. But the idea of Lent is not that I grow closer to God by myself, but that we do so as a community.
So will we continue to let our bad habits rule our lives, or will we allow God to become “Lord and Master of my life,” as the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim states? I challenge all of us to fight against our bad habits through growth in the Church. To me this feels impossible, but I gain comfort from knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. I have the support of the Church and my friends, as well as the choir of the saints and God Himself, who holds the whole world in the palm of his hand.
May God bless the arrival of Lent and the struggles that we will engage in during this time. Amen.