Return to me with your whole heart. Joel 2:12
Next week, Ash Wednesday, we will begin the holy season of Lent.
For most people, it will not even cross their radar screens! For others, it will be the kick-off of the annual Olympics of religious “game playing,” when hot dogs are “given up” on Fridays and replaced with shrimp, crabmeat and lobster in a sincere belief that somehow God will be impressed.
For a few, it will be a season of real repentance and conversion of life. Some years I do better than others, but for me Lent is always about “getting a grip” where I have “let myself go.”
There is nothing like a little more attention to prayer to raise my awareness of how much I have let slide. There is nothing like a little fasting to bring home that my eating habits are out of control. There is nothing like a little almsgiving to make me aware of so many who have to “make do” with so little.
On one hand, I don’t really like Lent. It always makes me feel guilty, defective and not quite good enough. But that’s the point, isn’t it?
Spiritual growth is effortful, and every bone in my body wants to avoid the discipline that will expose my attempts to avoid any suffering that leads to personal growth and to take the easy way out. There is a part of me that does not want to exert myself, that clings to the comfortable and familiar, that is fearful of any effort, that desires comfort at any cost and absence of pain at any price.
On the other hand, I really do like Lent. It always gives me a chance to grow, to change, to develop and to do the work and take the risks involved in spiritual growth. Lent makes me stop my routine, gives me an opportunity to stand up to my lazy side and offers me an opportunity to extend myself into new areas of personal progress.
I suspect that the disciplines of Lent are more easily observed by monks, nuns and priests than they are by today’s husbands, wives and parents.
When it comes to fasting, parents have to think about children. When it comes to prayer, family life today can make that more complicated. When it comes to almsgiving, many families today have little left for charity. Lent, however, can be observed by all in some degree with a bit of imagination.
Here are some examples of applying some personal imagination. Spend fifteen minutes of quiet either in the morning, noon or evening; skip one meal a day; or give away some items of surplus clothing each week.
Whatever you do, do it deliberately, do it without drawing attention and do it faithfully! In the end, it is better to do something simple and manageable than set oneself up for failure by taking on more than one can handle or by being too grandiose in one’s plans.