The failure of Lenten resolutions

I know it seems odd to write on the 1st day of Lent about failing at our Lenten resolutions, but a big part of what makes me choose my disciplines for Lent is whether I think I can stick to them. So the topic of failure is on my mind right from the start.

It seems to me there’s a parallel between New Years resolutions and what we’re “giving up for Lent”. Much of what people give up for Lent are things that are bad for them. Indeed, my list includes soda and cookies… two things that are not helping my waist-line. What concerns me about this parallel is the failure rate of New Years resolutions. Interestingly, 64% are successful for a month (so only 36% have failed by that point), but 80% have failed by the 2nd week of February. 4 1/2 weeks in January plus at most 2 weeks in February… that’s 6 1/2 weeks, which is the length of Lent.

While I don’t have exacting data, the New Years data suggests the majority of Lenten resolutions will have failed before the end of Lent as well, assuming similar failure rates. Although some suggest that the accountability of the faith community as well as the fixed timeline (compared to a New Years resolution that generally is meant to be a life-long change) make it so that Lenten resolutions are more successful than New Years resolutions.

But I think there’s something else that can be different about Lent and indeed about any Christian resolution for change… forgiveness and renewed resolution. There’s something about a New Years resolution that make it seem like once you’ve failed, it’s time to give up… at least until next year. There’s a collective feeling of “Well, we tried. Oh well!”

Hopefully we don’t have this sort of feeling about our Lenten resolutions. If you give up chocolate and give in to temptation, the right answer is to say a prayer asking God for forgiveness and then re-doubling your efforts. This seems more in line with our cherished beliefs about Gods’ forgiveness.

We believe forgiveness and redemption is possible for everyone. While there are many that society will write off as being irredeemable, as Christians we’re called to believe that anyone, no matter how big their sins, can be transformed. This is a great gift to the sinner. Without the possibility of redemption, few would turn their lives around.

This is just as true for the little sins. We can keep returning to the confessional over and over with the little things we struggle with. We’re allowed to try time and time again to overcome our temptations. So where the New Years resolution tends to have a ‘once-and-done’ feel, hopefully when it comes to our Lenten resolutions, even when we momentarily fail, hopefully we have the fortitude to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, ask God for pardon, and begin again.

May we all have that strength this Lenten season.

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