Looking back on Lent from the joy of the Easter season, many members of the University of Dallas community find rich soil for contemplation in the last 40 days. For some, their penitential reflections go back to 90 days before Easter when they began their participation in Exodus 90 or Fiat 90.
The purpose of these programs is to practice self-denial in pursuit of freedom in the Lord. Though there are some differences between the two, Fiat and Exodus lay out similar restrictions for those who participate. For both the women of Fiat and the men of Exodus, these practices are organized by being a discipline of mind, body or soul. The programs forbid indulgences like snacking, social media, cursing and alcohol. They also prescribe healthy habits like regular exercise, daily prayer and a “heroic minute” that asks the participant to wake up to their first alarm and be out of bed in under a minute. Members of Exodus 90 are also required to take cold showers.
While different participants faced different challenges, they agreed that there was freedom found in breaking thoughtless habits and building intentional ones for God. Dr. Jonathan Sanford, president of the university, participated in Exodus in 2022. He reflected: “I think Exodus is not about rigorousness. It’s about freedom and living life with joy. I appreciated the focus on not looking for joy in things that can’t provide it.”
Sara Freund, a junior English major, had a similar experience of Fiat 90. She said, “Building that discipline that just opened me up to more spiritual growth.”
A key feature of Exodus and Fiat alike is the community built by the members. In both programs, participants find accountability partners called anchors. Together, they discuss their progress and reflections daily. It is also recommended that the group of men or women meet once a week.
Sanford found this community to be a highlight in his experience in Exodus. He said, “I found it enriching to have a weekly check-in with a group of friends who are doing this together and daily check-ins with a friend.”
This community was not just a joy for participants of Exodus and Fiat, but a necessary key to complete the difficult challenge. Michael Vu, team director of FOCUS at UD, participated in Exodus for the fourth time this year. “Across the board, anytime I talked with any guys doing it, when the anchors failed or when the group started to splinter is when it got hard,” he said. “The most successful time I did it was when the entire group was thoroughly committed.”
Peter Key, a sophomore business major and two-time participant of Exodus, said that having an anchor was crucial in his effort to sustain his commitment to the disciplines. Key said: “[When you stumble] you’re not just letting yourself down and letting God down, but you’re seeing a person in front of you that you let down, and so that helped me a lot [to] stay on track and strive for better.”
Without this accountability and community, many struggle to stick to the program. An anonymous participant of Exodus 90, referred to here as Hogan, admitted that after the first 60 days of Exodus, he lost steam and resolution. As the group of men he was doing Exodus with became more slack and less organized, Hogan saw a similar change in himself. He said, “I think the reason I stopped honestly is because the fraternity kind of fell apart.”
Hogan’s struggle with Exodus left him feeling lost when Easter came. He reflected on the readings from Exodus he prayed with throughout the program. Hogan said: “I’m in the wilderness somewhere. Just wandering around. I still haven’t found where I want to be.”
Freund recalled a similar experience when she tried Fiat for the first time in high school. When she struggled to stick to the disciplines as well as she had hoped to, her reaction was to stop altogether. “And I think that was a big mistake,” she said. “The most freeing thing I learned doing Fiat this time was that even if I just kept trying to do one thing for like, one day a week, that would still be worth it.”
Every participant said that they would absolutely participate in the program again, though there are things that they would do differently. Caroline Werther, a FOCUS missionary at UD, participated in Fiat 40, an application of the Fiat guidelines to the regular Lenten season. The next time she does Fiat, she hopes to do it with a group of women she is closer with so that they can discuss the “why” of the program more deeply. “There’s always the temptation to get caught up in the actual act, like things themselves rather than to remember your why,” she said.
Vu encourages students to consider participating in Exodus, but to do so prayerfully. “I think one of the temptations of doing Exodus is doing it because it’s a hard thing,” he said. “In a faithful community, like in the students of UD, we want to be challenged, we want to engage with spirituality in any avenue that we can. And it’s a really beautiful thing, but I think also there’s a ‘yes’ culture here that we can overcome, too.”
In reflecting on Mary’s Fiat and the Isrealite’s Exodus, the members of these communities on campus found rich soil in which to grow closer to Christ in His passion. In doing so, they have been able to more totally participate in the joy of Easter.