Two perspectives on personal development.

Part 1: 47 Nights Out by Jared Rogers

I realized in February that I am approaching the two-year anniversary of my moving to North Carolina. A plethora of good things have manifested in my life in that time, but I was struck with restlessness at this realization. The feeling was that of a large hole in my heart. I had become stuck in a lonely rut. A friend told me about her Lent observance soon approaching, and I became inspired to embark upon my own personal adventure.

The mission: Every night until Easter I was to go out for a drink.

Technically speaking, this was not an observance for Lent. Lent is defined as being “a solemn religious observance.” My quest was not religious, and it was certainly not solemn. I did not give anything up; rather, I decided to add something into my life.

So the burning question is this: Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree for 40 days being tempted by Mara, and arose an enlightened being. Christ walked through the desert for 40 days being tested by Satan, and emerged as the Son of Man. Jared spent the last 47 days drinking beer (and sometimes tequila)… but what did he learn?

The first, and arguably most important realization, was that throughout the last month and a half I have turned many strangers into acquaintances, and a few acquaintances into good friends. My social network is slowly starting to build after having moved to this state without knowing a single soul. More on this in a moment.

I thought I experienced love at first sight one night. It was a spontaneous meeting, and the connection was dramatic. How can you only know someone for a few short hours yet genuinely feel as though you have known them for a lifetime? Staring into those deep brown eyes made me feel as though I was standing with my toes curled over the edge of an abyss while a cool breeze swept across my back, just begging me to jump in.

Nietzsche said that if you stare long enough into the abyss, so too does the abyss stare back into you. I felt an abyss open up in my chest the next morning. I swear I could still smell her hair when I opened my eyes. I remembered her telling me that she could hardly stand to let go of me before I kissed her goodnight, she told me to call her soon. I learned soon enough that I am exceptionally naïve.

So what did this teach me?

That patience is a virtue.

I learned that I must be patient in building social relationships. Rome was not built in 47 nights. I learned that lasting social changes will be realized one conversation at a time. I can only do my best to reinforce the behaviors that led to positive outcomes, learn from mistakes so that I can attain positive outcomes more often, and try to be aware and eliminate behaviors that are not serving me well.

When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone in the name of self-improvement? We all get stuck in different ruts. Some people struggle with anxiety and self-esteem. Some are neurotic control freaks. Others are wildly disorganized and aloof. We each have our ticks, we each have behaviors we struggle with, and we all have things we would like to improve in our lives.

Will you decide to take an honest look at yourself? Or will you continue to say, “One day I’ll get around to that.” I hope to see you out in the world, opening your heart up to vulnerability in the name of living better. If our paths cross, I would love to buy you a drink and hear your story. I have been told I am a very good listener.

Part 2: 47 Days All Natural by Ellen Brisley

I began Lent not quite knowing what to sacrifice for 40+ days. I actually did not decide until the morning of Ash Wednesday because, to be honest, I could not decide what might be worth giving up. The intention of Lent is focusing your heart, mind and actions on God’s love and the ultimate sacrifice of His Son on Good Friday. I wanted to give up something so meaningful that at the end of Lent, I could celebrate a new perspective along with the celebration of an empty tomb. I wanted to learn something about myself and God’s love for me, a love so strong that He made the ultimate sacrifice for me.

Ash Wednesday arrived, and with nothing yet weighing on my heart worthy of sacrificing for the right reason, I looked in the mirror. All I saw staring back was insecurity. Do my eyes sparkle enough? Are the dark circles under my eyes really noticeable? Is my hair too long, too straight, too short, or too wavy? Is my nose too pointed? Are there any skin imperfections? As I stared into the mirror, I realized I had a quick fix for each of these “problems,” purchased at a store and chock-full of chemicals.

What if I decide to not wear any make-up today? What if I choose to not wear any for 40+ days? What will people think of me? How will my clients look at me? How will my husband look at me? With that final question, I allowed my insecurities to continue to get the better of me and sent a fast and furious text message to my husband, asking if he would be okay with me not wearing make-up for Lent. His reply: “Of course, beautiful.”

Be still, my heart. With that sweet blessing of affirmation, I embarked upon a journey I never thought I could possibly take. No eye make-up to make my eyes sparkle and pop. No foundation to hide the fact that my pale skin just experienced a sunless winter. No concealer for the blemish, certain to occur in a 40 day period. For a young lady raised in the South, who would never dare step foot out of the house without her “face” on, this would be a true sacrifice and challenge.

The first week was a tough adjustment. Those who I saw most regularly asked if I was feeling okay, or if I was sick. No one meant any harm, they were just curious. But the words struck a chord, and I wondered if I had the courage to complete Lent “all natural.” Taking innocent comments as personal attacks and judgments can leave a permanent scar on one’s heart. I did not want to continue feeling these insecurities, but I pressed forward anyway, hopeful for a clear perspective with emotions in check.

Listening to music on the way to work one day, my perspective finally changed. I had heard this particular song many times before, but on that particular day the lyrics touched my heart in a different way. I was wearing no make-up, apparently looked sick and tired, and felt as insecure as ever.

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies, disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

At this point in this short season of sacrifice, I found myself focusing less on my insecurities and more on His securities. I know I was made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), and I know I was knit in my own mother’s womb by His hands and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-16). If my own Creator loves me as I am, should I not be content?

When you ever doubt yourself – how you look, how you were made, the features you have been blessed with – ask your Creator, “Can I really go all natural and accept who You made me to be?”

I promise His reply will be, “Of course, beautiful.”