when love and lent walk togetherEven though it has “Lent” in the title, this is not a religious post, I promise.

This past week, many people around the world observed Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent in the Christian calendar. They possibly went to church, prayed, had a priest mark their forehead with ashes… all in all, making it a pretty quiet and reflective day.

On Sunday, many people around the world will spend a lot of money on, and may have spent even more time preparing for, Valentine’s Day. They will keep Hallmark in business, as they will jewelry stores and candy brands and teddy bear makers galore.

Image: Robynlou Kavanagh via Flickr, CC 2.0

Doesn’t it strike you as just a tad incongruous that two such markedly different events should fall in the same week?

That on the one hand, it is a season of reflection and detaching, at least in some way, from the material world.

And on the other, we’re being blasted with messaging and marketing around as much mindless, cheesy consumption as our pocketbooks can afford (and if they can’t, never mind, go into debt for it!).

For the first time ever, I went to church on Ash Wednesday. Our pastor is really terrific, and had a really interesting take on Lent.

His suggestion (not his exact words, but the gist):

Instead of giving up meat, or eating, or _____, why not give up anger, or self-loathing, or resentment?

Instead of forcing penitence on yourself and making yourself miserable in the process, why not give up whatever stops you from having a really great relationship with yourself? That, after all, is the basis for any relationship, whether with another person, an organization, a client, a Higher Power (if you believe in one)… and so on.

What a great idea!

I think this is a great way to bring together the underlying meaning of both Lent and Valentine’s Day, though ostensibly they are so diametrically opposed.

Give up what doesn’t satisfy you or give your life meaning (the Lenten view). Give yourself more of what does (the Valentine view).

In a Social PR world, for example, you could:

  • Give up stressing over meaningless metrics and focus on what really counts
  • Release yourself from getting sucked into social media trivialities by limiting the time you spend on it, and making that time count
  • Relinquish the idea that you can control what and how your audience thinks and behave, and instead focus on being of service, providing value, and nurturing a community.

In doing any of these acts – or any others, take your pick of what drives you craziest when it comes to your work! – we get so much back.

We get back:

  • Sanity
  • Calm
  • Focus

… all of which helps us do our work better. All of which gives our lives – certainly our work lives, and that invariably spills over into our personal lives – that much more meaning, and value.

And isn’t that what love and, ultimately, Valentine’s Day, is all about? Showing someone that they give your life meaning, and that you value their presence in it?

I guess Lent and Valentine’s Day aren’t really all that contradictory, then.

And I, for one, am fine with that.