Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lenten Reality

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.  


  1. Sounds like a successful lent to me. Humility is never an easy virtue and yet is essential to every other virtue. As a mom, your daily work with your children is a constant source of spiritual growth, every Mass you struggle though, every prayer time that is interrupted, every opportunity where their antics made you feel your efforts were failing and yet also exposed them to your example of trying anyway and doing anyway because God is worth the effort-- every bit of this is part of Lent too.

    I set my goal but no longer expect that I will keep them perfectly. This year I got sick and missed three days of my prayers, so I made them up, caught up with the rest of the people, and am not kicking myself for it. It is about making the goal and working toward whatever growth it will bring but understanding that God will either grant the successful completion to me or not, as He wills. It is all OK and I keep plugging along.

    So keep plugging along--you really are doing OK.

  2. Sounds like you're suffering with what I would call "latent Protestantism". I would define that as being filled with the spirit through praise and worship and if I'm not feeling that when I praise and worship I must be doing something wrong. Very touchy feel-y. I grew up being protestant. I suffer from this non-reality a lot. The philosophies I grew up with are not cohesive with suffering. To them, suffering is bad and only happens when you've been a poor Christian. It's so Calvinistic. Ugh. I'm so happy to be Catholic.

    I have to remind myself of my personal limitations. Look realistically and what I can do and what I need to entrust to God, and if I'm uncomfortable with that or with what God gives me, to be okay with accepting that humility. Logic doesn't always factor into our thinking when we plan our goals for Lent. Thankfully, we have husbands who are logical and can balance our femaleness out (or if not a husband, hopefully a father or brother or priest or good male friend).

    When I married my husband (a cradle Catholic who was very passionate about being Catholic) he stunned me with his philosophies. I had never heard of his take after all my listenings to EWTN, Catholic Answers, etc. To him he finds giving up things to be very beginner. Adding something to our spiritual life is much more challenging. I still don't get it. I guess by adding something to our spiritual life we naturally have to give up time and give up other things to make it happen (so why focus on giving things up when you can give to God and give up at the same time).

    Talk with your husband next year about balance in Lent. Have him be your moderator and adviser. After all, we marry the person who we think will help us get to heaven.

  3. Cam, for a couple of years now I've taken the additive approach (rather than the give up) approach to Lent for the most part. It's not totally the case because we do pretty much give up meat for Lent (other than Sundays and St. Patrick's Day). It had been going pretty well until this weekend when I went to a conference that required a very early rising and late going to bed. I managed to get things in (albeit in a pretty abbreviated fashion yesterday). What it made me realize is how much easier it really should be on most days for me. I'm rarely that busy overall, and yet there are days that I find myself still with the Office of Readings to do at 6 at night. I think that sometimes it's good to have a bad day to realize what a normal day really affords us.

    I have been struggling with discouragement this Lent over the political situation. The readings yesterday, so lifted my heart. It made me remember once again that God truly is in control. The good thing for me about doing the readings is that it keeps pulling my focus back to where it belongs. The other additive thing is a particular prayer sacrifice that is also making me remember that this particular situation is in God's hands not mine.

    I think I'm realizing for the first time that Lent is not just a time when we give things to God, but a time when he gives gifts to us as well.

    Now what I'd like to know is why is it that the Fridays of Lent (when I'm truly obliged to abstain from meat) are the only days of Lent where it's difficult, not only is the temptation greater, but this weekend the logistics were actually more difficult as well.


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