Ah, life — always a balancing act! This week blogging took a back seat to all the work that’s been piling up. 🙁
Anyway, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on Lent. I can hardly believe the time is upon us — but here we are stuffing in those last Paczki’s — and before you know it, it will be Ash Wednesday. Where has the time gone?
Lent is usually something I just try to get through. But this year, I want to try to do more than survive it — I actually want to find myself thriving in it. How about you?
So, without further ado, I offer you my 7 Quick Tips for Preparing for the Best.Lent.Ever — or not — it’s really up to you.
Don’t Be a Baby
I have to admit — I am not one of those uber Catholics who just “can’t wait” for all the sufferings and mortification of Lent. Don’t get me wrong — I know that these things are necessary and good — but I just don’t like to suffer. At all.
And I know that because I’m a big, fat wimp about suffering that God finds ways to help me to find the meaning in it when it does come. It just takes a lot for me to to realize that in the moment, ya know?
Usually I’m running so quickly from the reality of suffering that I am failing to see the “thing” that God is trying to teach me through that suffering. Can anybody else relate?
I feel a little better about my own responses when I read about Saints like Teresa of Avila, whose carriage toppled over on her way to founding another house of prayer, and she said, “Well if this is the way you treat your friends, Lord, no wonder You have so few”. Ouch! I get you Teresa!
After she had time to reflect on it, I bet she and God probably had a good laugh about her ridiculousness — because she had that kind of intimacy with God — so don’t beat yourself up too much if you find yourself complaining to God. It’s pretty normal and it keeps us humble.
So let’s not be big, fat, babies this Lent — let’s face the things we have chosen to do and the things that have been “chosen” for us this Lent head-on — and let’s allow it to change us for the better.
Take Time to Examine the Way You See God
Before you enter Lent, maybe ask yourself, “How do I see God?”. It just might change the way you see the “sufferings” and mortifications of Lent if you take the next few days and think on that question.
I attended a Calvinist school for seven years, and it affected the way I used to see God. John Calvin saw God as a task-master of sorts dangling man over the fires of Hell. Some He chose to drop in and some He chose, or predestined, to save. In other words, nothing man can do can change God’s mind on the matter — some were born on the A-Team and some — well, they were born to suffer eternity in Hell. What? 🙁
Clearly there are many problems with this theory — one being the fact that it’s impossible to explain how a loving God could actually create anybody for Hell. I’ve had to go back and undo some of those impressions that I had as a child — but thank God, He established a Church to correct those wrong impressions I had of Him.
The Church teaches that God loves all of us and wants all of us to make it to Heaven. Man chooses Hell by turning His back on God — not the other way around.
God never turns His back on us — ever — read the parable of the prodigal son if you want to know the love that Our Father in heaven has for us.
It is an adaptation from a well-known parable that was popular in Jesus’ day, but Jesus changed the ending. The original ending had the father turning his back on his son and casting him out — but Jesus’ ending made it clear that God is always ready to take us back and the depth of His love and forgiveness is unparalleled.
Pray on it. Think about it and allow it all to soak in until you know how incredibly important you are to Him and that He longs to have you in heaven one day.
Why We Suffer?
Oh, the problem of suffering. It’s big — and if we allow ourselves to dwell too much on suffering without understanding it’s meaning, it can break us. At some point in our lives we may come to one of life’s biggest questions: “Why do we have to suffer?”.
We suffer because of sin in the world. We suffer because my sin doesn’t just affect me — it affects you as well. We don’t always have to be the one sinning to experience the suffering due to that sin. Sin is the cause of suffering — but God doesn’t let sin have the last word.
No, He has redeemed suffering — made it sanctifying, even. At the time Christ came to the earth, there was a lot of confusion about suffering. Many people saw suffering as a judgement by God, and countless times Jesus had to clarify to even the apostles that an individual’s sin doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what a man will suffer.
Through Christ’s example, we begin to see suffering as a noble and fitting response to alleviate the sufferings of the world and to conquer sin.
As St. Paul says, “We must make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ”. God has allowed us to be a part of His redemptive story — how amazing is that?
How To Suffer
Suffering, when done right, requires all three of the theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity.
To suffer well is an act of faith in the goodness of God, hope in the promise of Heaven, and an act of love for God and man.
There is a profound, yet mysterious relationship between accepting suffering when it comes our way and the joy that comes afterwards. Suffering is often essential to experiencing true joy in this lifetime — and quite often, the more one accepts suffering when it comes, the more joy they experience afterward.
Hey, any woman that’s had a baby gets this one pretty easily — lots of suffering, but crazy, amazing joy that moment you hold your baby for the first time. So, so worth it!
So let’s unite our sufferings to Christ this Lent and He will do amazing things with these little sufferings, if you allow Him.
Don’t Be Stupid.
One Lent I decided to give up coffee. This was a huge sacrifice for me because I love coffee! However, at the time I was unmarried and teaching all day long, preparing for classes, and then volunteering to do youth ministry in the evenings.
For that entire Lent, I managed to make it through the school day, but I was literally falling asleep by the end. I ended up going home every day of Lent and sleeping — so the volunteer work that I did with youth ministry didn’t happen for 6 weeks.
+1 point for zeal and sacrifice, but -5 points for stupidity = a net loss in favor of stupid. 🙁 After that Lent, I realized that coffee was a way that I fueled my body so I could serve God in the local church. Yes, I enjoy it — but it serves an important purpose, too.
Moral of the story: Let’s not be stupid. Just because you like something, doesn’t mean you have to give it up for Lent. Focus on the things that actually hinder you from serving God — and give those things up. Needless to say, I will not be giving up my coffee this Lent.
The Church provides 3 areas of focus for us during Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. A great idea is to choose something small from each of those categories and try to grow a little bit in each area.
Prayer: If you’re not praying every day, take 10 – 15 minutes to sit down every day and pray. Use a good spiritual book or the readings of the day. If you’re already doing that, think of another way to up your game just a bit.
I really benefited from the 30 minutes of Adoration Challenge that I took on this Advent, and I actually have continued 30 minutes of Adoration each week. So I am going to up it to 1 hour of Adoration each week of Lent. Can I do it? I’m gonna try.
Fasting: I get “hangry” — you know, incredibly angry when I am hungry? Can anybody else relate?
I have learned that If I choose a strict fast — depriving myself of food or meals — I become the most terrible person by the end of the day. Honestly, my “hangriness” can be so bad that it just might cause everybody around me to lose the will to live 🙁 — so I need to modify my fasting.
Yelling and screaming and becoming an awful person is not the goal of Lent. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of what Lent should be! Knowing that I need to eat on a regular basis to be a nice person means that I need to be a bit creative with this one.
If you’re like me, perhaps something as simple as no cream in coffee or no salt on food can be a big sacrifice! Honestly, just keeping the minimum of no meat on Fridays of Lent and strict fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday might be all you need to do in this area. If you’re feeling called to more, then go for it!
Almsgiving: Find ways to give more of your time, talents, and treasure this Lent. This might be the time to give an anonymous donation, share something special with somebody who doesn’t have the means to buy themselves something nice, or offer to babysit so your friend can get out for a break.
The Bible says, “where your heart is, there will be your treasure”. It just might be time to cut some ties with the material or spiritual things that are holding you back from God. Love of money, clothes, jewelry, desire for free time — whatever you feel has too much of a hold on you and is separating you from loving God and neighbor — it just might be time to let it go.
Lent is a perfect time for clearing your heart from all the clutter. God wants to help you break those chains so you will be free again.
Something is Better than Nothing.
Baby steps, people. The older I get, the more I am convinced that dramatic change happens over years, not weeks. In other words, take 1 or 2 things and focus on them and let it be a baby step towards the person you believe God wants you to be.
I recently read about something called Ninevah 90 on the internet, and I thought, “Maybe that is a good idea”. But upon further reading it, I realized that I am not ready for something that intense!
To be honest, being a mother of 6 kids is pretty intense, so I think I need to move a little more slowly on improvements in my life or it just won’t stick. And there are so many unexpected sufferings and mortifications that comes with being a mom that I think accepting those “unexpected” things throughout Lent are just what I need.
I love the idea of tackling my spiritual life with a cannonball, but I feel like God doesn’t want that for me. I think He wants me to humbly move forward in faith, hope, and charity.
One day, I’ll look back and realize that I have changed — a lot. It’s the little things added up over time that will make a big difference. Slow and steady wins the race!
So let’s get going. Let’s take these last few days to ask God what He has in mind — and don’t be surprised if He throws in a few unexpected things.
Please pray for me and I’ll be praying for you.
Linking Up With Kelly.