Why I still participate in Lent even though I’m not religious

After having been out of Catholic school for over 8 years, I still choose to participate in Lenten practices year after year. For those who don’t know, Lent is the period of about 6 weeks prior to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on February 14 this year. It’s supposed to be a time of penance and preparation for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

I think it might surprise people that I still participate in Lent because I don’t attend mass or really acknowledge any other Catholic practices, and there are certainly pieces of Catholic doctrine I wholeheartedly disagree with. In fact, I don’t even really identify as Catholic as much as I just say that I was raised Catholic. I even went through Penance, Eucharist, and Confirmation as part of my schooling. (FYI, my Confirmation name is Cecilia, after the patron saint of music.)

My idea of what “religion” is has evolved throughout the years. In the United States, you belong to one religion, and only that one religion. And if you realize you want to practice a different religion, you convert or denounce you current religion. However, this idea changed when I was in college.

When I was taking a Japanese class at my college, my professor told us that if you asked a native Japanese person, “What religion are you?” the question simply would not make sense culturally. Less than half of the population actually identifies as part of an organized religion. In Japan and other parts of the world, there is no singular religion. For example, in Japan, individuals may practice Buddhism, Shintoism, and even Christianity, and this is not seen as “conflicting.” Instead, individuals will choose to practice portions of each religion as appropriate, using religion to serve themselves as people instead of people serving the religion as an institution. For example, one might visit a Shinto temple on New Years, but also have a Christian wedding.  I’m sure there are many more poignant examples, but this is what my professor explained to my class.

So I took this idea of being able to hold multiple religious and spiritual practices in my head, and applying the practices or doctrine that resonated with me the most. After all, the formation of religion was meant to serve the people, not the other way around. So instead of feeling like I have to attend mass every Sunday, I participate in parts of Catholicism that best serve me as an individual. And one of those things is Lent.

Lent, for me, is a time to practice self-restraint, control, and is a time to intensely focus on personal inner transformation. Many people practice self-constraint in the form of certain foods, as a way of imitating Jesus’ fast in the desert for 40 days during which he was tempted by Satan. I still do this, though my rationale for abstaining from certain foods is not based in religious doctrine as much as they are based in health and science.

For those who are curious, here’s a pretty complete list of what I challenge myself to do during Lent, starting from most challenging to least challenging (aka what I do every year). I have also added my rationale for each item.

  1. Abstain from eating out with friends. I wanted to do this for two reasons: 1) a financial incentive to spend less money and 2) to connect and bond with my friends in genuine and creative ways, such as cooking together, hiking, or simply just hanging out.
  2. Abstain from wearing any face makeup. As I have gotten more invested in my own skincare, I’ve wanted to continue making progress. While makeup is not inherently bad as long as you wash it off, it can still be counterproductive. Additionally, this is way of me becoming more comfortable to showing off my imperfections. Did you know: I actually wear face makeup not to hide my skin flaws, but actually because I blush a lot and very extremely? Now people will really know when I’m embarrassed or nervous, and that’s what the challenge is really about.
  3. Abstain from red meat. This one is actually hard to me because as a Filipina, a lot of my favorite dishes have red meat in them. However, I am painfully aware of the effect the beef industry has on climate change. Did you know that methane gas is over 20X more impactful on the Earth than CO2 from your car? Yeah. The best way to fight climate change is actually to just minimize red meat consumption.
  4. Abstain from feelings of being trapped by my parking space. I get so much newly-developed anxiety from leaving my parking space around my own neighborhood because of the recent influx of college students and tech professionals. So much so, that I’ve refused to go out and have almost cried because I was more concerned with my mom losing her parking spot than picking me up at the BART station late at night. So I’m really trying to let go of those feelings.
  5. Abstain from the usuals: chocolate, chips, carbonated beverages, coffee. Clearly anything that begins with a C?

I have other personal, inner transformation goals, but I will not share them publicly.

Now you might be wondering, “Marjorie, couldn’t you do these at any time of year? Lent is technically an arbitrary set of dates.” 

And you would be correct! I could just set up a “30 Day” Instagram challenge and be done with it. But Lent is an external deadline, and I know there are hundreds of millions of people across the world who are participating with their own struggles and challenges as well, regardless of their rationale being based in religion or something else. For me, Lent is a powerful time. I was born during Lent, so maybe that’s why this practice resonates with me so much.

So even though I don’t identify as religious, Lent is a practice that serves me as an individual, for personal growth, financial control, and self-restraint from unhealthy behaviors. You won’t be seeing me in a church on Easter morning, but I will certainly be celebrating my own accomplishments surrounded by people who support me.


2018 Goals: January Update

Hello everyone!

As promised, Here is my monthly update about how my 2018 Goals have been going. I wrote in this post all the tasks I wanted to complete for the month of January:

  • 1/15: Acquire GRE materials*
  • 1/15: Ambulance driving license
  • 1/18: Acquire state EMT license
  • 1/20: Acquire county accreditation*
  • 1/25: Choose MPH Application Letter of Recommendation writers
  • 1/30: Apply for jobs
  • Acquire MCAT Textbooks from my friend

*These items are asterisks because I realized they are no longer required tasks.

Okay so… I wasn’t able to complete all the tasks I wanted for January, but I wasn’t exactly slacking off either:

For Ambulance Driving License, I realized I needed a physical exam plus I need to get finger printing! And while I definitely could have done the former task earlier, I didn’t because I was sick and that could impact my physical exam. For the latter, that costs money! So I need to work a little bit so I can pay off all these fees.

The same goes for my state EMT license. I needed to make more money in order to pay for this license. However, I foresee all of this getting done by mid-February!

I haven’t chosen my MPH Letter of Recommendation writers yet because I’m still deciding. I will reach out probably within the next week or so. I just completed an application for something else, so I will ask that person if they can modify for an MPH program!

did apply for jobs that I was eligible for without my EMT license. And I did acquire my MCAT textbooks from a friend! Whoohoo!

Here’s to looking forward in February:

  • 2/9: Schedule a physical exam for ambulance driver’s license
  • 2/12: Pay for my CA EMT License! 
  • 2/15: Finish MPH Personal Statement
  • 2/28: Have my personal statement read by at least two people
  • 2/28: Register for the GRE*
  • Renew my Driver’s License
  • Renew my CPR Card
  • Take my Ambulance Driving Exam
  • Get hired by an EMS agency –> Move to Early March

Tasks in bold are newly added tasks that need to be completed.
Tasks in italics have been modified or pushed back.

I can tell that as the year goes on, I will continue adding more and more tasks to this list. Of course as I begin delving into the goals I am trying to accomplish, I acquire more information on the ins and outs of what needs to be done, so I’m able to for much more accurate to-do list! I’ll check in with y’all again in February!




14. Before the end of 2017, plan to put your workspace in order: clean, neat, well-organized. It will help get started with enthusiasm, and enjoy your work more.

“If you drive for work, clean out and organize your vehicle. if you have certifications to maintain, schedule training and recert as soon as you  can. Interpret this to-do however it makes sense for you.”

Oh god. At home, I have no designated work space. I just work at a dinner table. There’s very little I can do about this living circumstance. However, I do try to keep it as clear as possible, and my mom knows exactly where I work and is respectful of that.

When I get back home (because I’m currently in LA), I would like to take down my posters in my room, and hang up my certificates and diplomas because it’s super inspirational to me… like I inspire myself with my own achievements.

Additionally, in terms of certifications,  I need to get my CPR card re-newed in April! I’m going to add that to my previous monthly post right now!

This post is part of a larger series of goal-related posts. See the full list of posts here.

13. Habiticans: Look at the Short Term Accountability guild and the Long Term Project guild, as well as (if you like them) the Pomodoro Playground guild. If you haven’t tried pomodoros and you have trouble staying focused, give them a try!

“Find communities relevant to your goals and join them. Find encouragement wherever you can–and think about how Habitica can support you in making 2017 an amazing year!”

Like last year, I’m not super social on online forums. However, I am social on Instagram and I’m trying to become more social and interact with more people by commenting on things.

I do not do Pomodoros, but I do use apps like Forest which force me to stay away from my phone in order to plant a forest. It’s a really great app for fighting phone addiction, so I will continue to use it!

This post is part of a larger series of goal-related posts. See the full list of posts here.

12. If any of these goals involve behavioral changes (like quitting smoking or cigarettes, losing weight, getting fit, etc.), it’s essential to look into what will help you be successful and what will undermine you, and make plans and changes accordingly.

“Write a short plan for how you will address these challenges. If this doesn’t apply to you, feel free to just check it off. For this one in particular, consider doing some research–or,if appropriate, see a doctor or counselor. Take good care of yourself!”

This year, none of my goals require a change in behavior! I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and stay motivated!

This post is part of a larger series of goal-related posts. See the full list of posts here.

11. Schedule monthly planning sessions, and monthly check-ins now, for the whole year.

This one is hard to do because I don’t have consistent contact with professors or advisors.

However, I will make a commitment to doing monthly check-ins on my Instagram (@anatomy.ace). I have a following at least from my personal friends, and a lot of people have given me positive feedback about how they enjoy seeing what I’m doing and like to see my celebrating all the little victories. I will choose to do smaller monthly updates at the end of every month.

I will also do a mid-year check in on June 30, and then an end-of-the-year update in December.

This post is part of a larger series of goal-related posts. See the full list of posts here.

10. Create a general monthly plan for the year, so you know what you need to accomplish each month in order to be successful, and so that you have to clear ways to monitor your progress and identify problems.


  • 1/15: Acquire GRE materials
  • 1/15: Ambulance driving license
  • 1/18: Acquire state EMT license
  • 1/20: Acquire county accreditation
  • 1/25: Choose MPH Application Letter of Recommendation writers
  • 1/30: Apply for jobs
  • Acquire MCAT Textbooks from my friend


  • 2/1: Finish MPH Personal Statement
  • 2/15: Have my personal statement read by at least two people
  • 2/28: Register for the GRE
  • Get hired by an EMS agency


  • 3/15: Re-new my CPR Card!
  • Take the GRE
  • Hike Mt. Tam


  • 4/15: Check in with letter writers
  • 4/30: Finalize MPH Application


  • 5/14: Turn in MPH Application
  • 5/15: Sign up for an MCAT Prep Class
  • Hike Mt. Diablo


  • Start MCAT Prep class


  • Begin MPH School (If I get in)
  • Hike Mt. #3


  • 9/1: Register for the MCAT
  • Take continuing education classes for EMT school

October-End of Year

  • Hike Mt #4

This post is part of a larger series of goal-related posts. See the full list of posts here.

9. Make a list of barriers, challenges, and tasks that consume your time.

“Include responsibilities and projects you’ve taken on–list as much as you can. Think about each one and be honest with yourself about whether you need to do them and whether they actually benefit you and help you reach your goals. What can you eliminate? But remember that friends, family, and a social life as absolutely essential!”

  • School: I’m not as busy as I was last year, but I will still have to write papers. Being at home, it’s a lot harder to focus here than it was at college. Now that I’m at home, I also have to take into account travel time between my campuses. I’m trying as hard as possible to not drop any classes, but it might happen!
  • Work: When I start working, my schedule will likely fluctuate a lot and I’ll just have to deal with it and play it by ear. A typical EMT shift is 12 hours, and it can be during any part of the day or night. 12 hours alone is already super time consuming.
  • Dance: Right now I’m only taking one dance class per week, so it’s definitely not too bad and honestly it’s good for me. It’s a great work out and distraction and it forces me to get out of the house. I’m not dropping this

That’s really just it. That’s my life right now and my life is nice and bearable. For once.

This post is part of a larger series of goal-related posts. See the full list of posts here

8. Understand what motivates you to get work done. Rewards? Deadlines? Praise? Accountability partners? How can you motivate yourself?

“a. Think about finding someone who can either work with you or who has similar goals, but make sure it’s someone who has a track record for success. Partners can help you fail as easily as they can help you succeed.

b. Consider going public with your goals, if that will help keep you motivated.

c. Ask a friend to provide you with rewards (that you provide), but only if you’re productive.

Write a few sentences in your plan about how you will help motivate yourself.”

Like I’ve said last year, the biggest motivator to me is deadlines! I’m the type of person who works best under pressure, and external deadlines made by other people or agencies is the one thing that will make me work super hard. I can never turn in anything late, even if it means I lose sleep. In addition to deadlines, praise is also very effective. I just want to know I’m doing a good job.

1. Find employment as an EMT-B

a. Definitely my EMT classmates can hold me accountable for going after my goals. After all, we’re all trying to achieve the same thing, so they’re the best people to turn to. I have one particular friend who I keep in constant touch with, so he’ll probably be a great accountability partner. Also, my instructor!

b. I’m already incredibly public with this goal on all types of social media.

c. I don’t think I need a friend to reward me with any rewards.

2. Take the MCAT

a. I don’t have too many friends who have the same MCAT timeline as I do, but I will be taking a class, so I’m sure I’ll meet friends. Regardless, I have plenty of pre-medical friends who are definitely part of my support network. These people will be my people.

b. I’m also pretty public about this already.

c. I think I’ll go out for another drink when I finish the MCAT.

3. Apply for a Master’s in Public Health

a. Definitely my friend who is currently in USF’s MPH program is a great person to at least provide guidance. She’s already helped me so much with really great advice and eased a lot of my concerns. So I really thank her for her inspiration.

b. I’m public about this on my blog Instagram, but nowhere else. I want to keep it that way until I’m accepted into the program.

c. No rewards for me! Not until I finish the program!

4. 30 Before 30: Climb 4 mountains to bring my summit count up to 5/30

a, I don’t know who I’ll find yet for this challenge… I think I’m going to ask my friend who likes hiking. The weather has been less than ideal in the second half of 2017, but hopefully 2018 will have better weather to climb the Bay Area mountains.

b. I will most definitely be public about it on Instagram.

c. Getting to the top is the reward!

This post is part of a larger series of goal-related posts. See the full list of posts here

7. Examine patterns of work. (What times and days do you work best?)

“Write a few sentences in your plan about how you can make time to accomplish your goals.”

Last semester, I worked best with a weekly schedule where I used to go to my friend’s apartment and work there. I would love for that to happen again, but I’m not sure if it will. I work best when I’m completely 100% alone, so Tuesdays and Wednesdays will probably be the best days for me.

I think I will take time after class to head straight to the library and do work there. I use to just walk home from school immediately, but I think I should take more time at school. I realized I was very productive at school when I went to school 2 hours early and sat in the cafeteria by myself.

As I wrote last year, I also work really well at night when the pressure is on. This is still a quality I have, and it’s something that probably won’t go away. Sometimes I just get productive, and I love to work when the inspiration strikes.

When I get a job, my schedule will probably fluctuate, but I can’t predict what that might look like yet.

This post is part of a larger series of goal-related posts. See the full list of posts here