Lent never unfolds in the way I expect it too, internally or externally. On an external level, year after year, it seems as though the Church faces her most heated attacks as we prepare for the celebration of our greatest Holy Day. If there’s going to be a large scale attack on the Church it seems as if there’s a good chance it’s going to begin in February, and unfold into March and April.
Then there’s the internal aspect. I don’t know why I always expect Lent to be this Shiny-Beautiful-Time-of-Self-Denial-and-Spiritual-Growth and that over the course of these special, set apart days, everything will go smoothly and my more or less well laid plans will propel me into hours of quiet contemplation and prayer. In my head, I see myself peacefully attending daily Mass and pondering the life of our Savior.
Then Ash Wednesday arrives and reality sets in.
My prayers are not miraculously more focused than they were twenty-four hours earlier. The girls don’t suddenly allow me to pay attention for a solid five minute segment during Mass, and I haven’t attended daily (non-feast-day) Mass since we moved to Florida, since the idea of wrangling Mae Bae by myself, while directing Sadie’s energy towards being silent, is about as appealing as getting a filling without novacain (Mae’s at that difficult Mass-going phase that many parents just pray passes quickly).
In hindsight, I can’t help but be embarrassed when I look back on my pre-Lenten pondering because it seems coated in pride. Every idea I had for Lenten sacrifice, just seemed “too easy.” They were all things I’d done before and they just seemed too “small.” I wanted to do something big, something difficult… something demanding.
Yet as I sat in the chapel at Mass on the Sunday before my blogging break, attending on my own for the first time in nearly four years (since the girls were still sick and Paul had gone to the vigil Mass), I found myself looking back on the previous days with a sigh. I’d already failed in my Lenten goals multiple times. Things that were “small” and “easy” suddenly seemed nearly impossible. I felt like a sluggish and lazy failure. I was embarrassed that things that should have been “small” had left me feeling utterly defeated during low moments and uncomfortably “off” on my “better” days.
Because even on the days when I’d done everything that I “should” have done, even after I’d checked every “to do” item off my list, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and the only word I could really use to describe it was “uncomfortable.”
Yet as I sat in Mass a little over a week ago, several thoughts occurred to me. The first was that maybe that “uncomfortable” feeling, wasn’t a bad thing at all. As much as I have a peaceful idealized vision of Lent in my head, the gritty reality of growth seldom matches up with descriptions of what is “easy” and the periods where I’ve found myself feeling as though I am being draw closer to God are seldom moments that fit my own overly physically based definition of “peaceful.”
Secondly came a rapidly spreading embarrassment in my own desire to do something “big” this year, when ultimately, even my smallest goals felt at times to be beyond me. The realization that I’d been relying on my own strength while making grand goals was suddenly strikingly clear. I’d been so focused on what I was going to do, that I’d spent very little time even attempting to listen for and discern what God might want from me. These thoughts, flooding in all at once, were humbling to say the least.
And so, it is with tiny, baby steps that I’m moving forward this Lent. It is with the knowledge that my own strength, even in little things, is very small and that relying on that strength will not carry me in the direction I need to be heading as each week brings us closer to the Easter season.