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Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I was raised Catholic, so this time of year was always a big deal. As Catholics have many rules, the season of Lent seems to have more. Lent is a time of self-sacrifice, to look inward. To fast. To pray. All to get ready for the miracle of Easter.

The church is pretty good at telling us how to live. Pretty good at throwing the word sin around. Pretty good at reminding us how our eternal reward is waiting…if we do what we’re supposed to do. Pretty good at judging those who don’t live according to their teachings. I’ve learned that the church can be pretty closed-minded. And yet preach peace on Earth.

Well, I believe that no one group of people get to tell the world what is the “right” way to live. I believe that peace comes from acceptance.

As a goodie-two-shoes ruler follower and as a kid, so for years I did what was expected. Yet as I got older, I began to question. Why am I doing this? Why am I following these rules? What exactly does it mean to me? If I am doing these things only because the church tells me to…what am I gaining? How is this bettering me, how is this bringing me closer to God, to my faith?

That’s what all this should do. Grow our faith. In whatever it is we believe.

What we choose to do should make us stronger.

However, when I didn’t follow the rules, I felt a lot of guilt. So Lent became this terrible season where I either did what I was told and ended up with a head full of questions or played the rebel and ended up with a heart full of guilt.

As Lent approached this year, I wanted it to be different. I’m tired of feeling guilty. There’s no reason to live up to other’s expectations. Only my own. God did give me my own mind for a reason…I should use it.

Easter is a time of hope, of renewal. So I am focused on that.

I will use these 40 days to grow my faith in me, to make myself the best version of me I can be. Even though I won’t be following the church’s rules, by listening to my heart I think God (or whoever is up there) will be proud of me.

My energy will be directed to creating better, healthier habits. And not eating right and exercising, but mental health. By carving time for all the things that will help me be a stronger person, I will push away all the things that hold me down.

By the time Easter arrives with all its glory, I will be on my way to the best me I can be.

One set of rules for everyone doesn’t work. We’re all different. Whether you celebrate Easter and Lent or not. Take time to grow your faith, to believe in yourself, to allow yourself to be the person you were meant to be. Drive out the darkness and open yourself to the light.

That’s what Lent is to me. That’s what Easter is to me. I’m finally ready to allow myself to live it.