Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, Catholics will take on an extra discipline during the 40 days between now and Easter (some excluding Sundays) in the areas of prayer, penitence and charity.
Usually you hear of this as “giving something up for Lent,” but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just as good to branch out into something extra that enhances your spiritual life and brings you closer to God. Maybe better.
I asked my guardian angel one year, “What should I do for Lent?”
I got the reply, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
I thought, “Yeah, but what should I do?”
This is why my guardian angel has in a call to raise the dosage of that migraine medication. Because the point of Lent is to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
At any rate, this year I’ve made a terrible discovery as I go through my search for the perfect thing to do for Lent to bring me closer to God. For you see, on the Catholic board I read, and on other Catholic weblogs, I’ve been encountering people for weeks who’ve been making Lenten resolutions along the lines of, “I’m going to pray all 20 decades of the rosary every day, read the whole Bible, fast twice a week, work with the poor, and give up chocolate, coffee, and every other brown food.”
Myself, I discovered I actually have no spirit of mortification. I look at things and think, “Oh, but that’d be hard.”
Because as we all know, dying on the cross was a picnic for Jesus. It’s a darned good thing he didn’t say, “You know, Father, it occurs to me that when they drive nails into my wrists, it’s going to hurt, and I don’t want that.”
So I imagine God patting me on the head saying, “That’s nice, dear. Now, I have this neat idea: how about you grow up a bit?”
I haven’t always been this way. Usually I embrace Lent (and I do love Lent) but last year among other things, I gave up sugar in my coffee, and it took something I enjoy and turned it into joylessness and bitterness. Which fits the theme of Lent quite nicely. But I’m reluctant to do it again.
Which probably means I should. But I don’t know. I’m writing this on Mardi Gras, and I still don’t know what I’m going to do. Other than try to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel, that is.
Hmmm. The thought occurs to me that we don’t call it “Good Friday” to commemorate the idea of pointless suffering.
LOL — good point.
I don’t believe turning something we love into something we hate is the point, although we all know my spiritual education is lacking.
Yes, God will appreciate anything not-evil we do in His name, simply because it’s in His name, but I think we’re past the random smudges on paper stage. (We’re at the planned smudges on paper stage.)
If it helps you be grateful that you have coffee and sugar, or renews your joy in proper coffee, it would have a point. Likewise, if it invests in your health. (Just how much sugar do you put in?)
On the other hand, it might teach you an unexpected lesson, so I won’t discount it totally. For that, though, I think it needs to be more random than “same as last year”. Give God a chance to load the dice. Yes, He can load them without your help, but formally giving him the opportunity prepares you to accept that the outcome is His will.
I’m undecided about what to do for Lent. I won’t do something just to be miserable. Last year’s plan to invest in myself every day worked well, at least until I fell off the wagon.
I think of Lenten discipline as appreciation and investment.
Studying every day appreciates my brain and body, and invests in them by keeping them active. Voice, piano, shorthand and writing are on the list.
Cleaning a long-ignored area of the house appreciates that we have a home, and invests in it so my family can enjoy it more. Basement boxes, kids’ school papers, old email, recursive backups on the harddrive and several file cabinets are on the list.
The question is, which should I focus on?
Sudden thought: I’ve started going out for lunch on Wednesday, between music lesson and knitting group. It adds up. Same with paying for close parking. I could park five minutes away, for free, and pack a lunch. Yes, I’d miss the warm lunch, but it’s rare the weather is bad enough to make the walk truly miserable. I enjoy walking. It would require discipline to get off the computer in time to make the lunch.
So: Renew the big plan for studying and housework. Add the Wednesday goal. Also add no internet until after lunch.
That’s cool, Cricket. 🙂
It’s not about turning something we love into something we hate. I think it’s more about taking our focus off creature comforts. Human love naturally expresses itself as self-denial and generosity, so it becomes a natural extension to sacrifice something for God to show him we love him — but the other side is as you point out, that we should then DO something with that sacrifice. Traditionally I think someone who’s fasting is supposed to donate the amount of money he would have spent on food to a charity that feeds the poor (or donate the equivalent food directly to a poor person.)
Here’s another one: Give up not being nice to ourselves. Give up the rat race and the quest for perfection. Give up the negative self-talk and not accepting ourselves for who we are. Take some time each day to sit with our feet up with a cup of tea. Truly enjoy what we have rather than thinking we deserve worse.
Or perhaps I’ll give up 20 pounds. Nah, it should be something with a reasonable chance of success. Make it the same 5 as last month.
I’d have an easier time losing the twenty pounds. :-b
Thinking more, maybe something that isn’t already on the list, and possibly pointless when taken out of context, is also a good idea. Small, frequent, easy enough that we do it rather than create guilt by not doing it.
The more I think about it, the more I see a benefit to each approach. Maybe the right approach varies with what else is happening in our lives, and that varies every year. Do you think 50 years will be long enough to run a good experiment?
You won’t catch me praying 20 Rosaries. One prayer with all your heart is worth far more than some mumbled Hail Marys. And this is coming from somebody who loves the Rosary! But it’s quality that counts not quantity. Better than a spirit of mortification is a spirit of love. Why not just simplify where you can for love of God? We are mortified enough in daily life. At least I am 😉
I do know someone who does three sets of mysteries per day. It’s not a question of mumbling them fast. 🙂
You haven’t been hanging around here long enough to get the scope of my potential for scrupulosity, but “simplify where you can for love of God” would leave me quivering in the corner. “Did I simplify this enough? Did I love God enough? What if God didn’t want me to simplify this?” Etc. LOL!
I suppose you could give up asking yourself “Did I do enough??” about things like this for Lent.
(Trouble is, I can see you then asking yourself “Did I give up asking myself ‘Did I do enough?’ thoroughly enough? What if God did want me to ask whether I did enough about this particular thing?” ;-))
I can see you’ve toured the inside of my head.
“Other than try to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel, that is.” I suspect that if you actually manage to do this you will have done the most that anyone could do.
I strongly suspect I can’t, actually. It’s a lot easier to give up chocolate or coffee. *sigh*
I’m drinking my tea black this year (as I did last year) so I have some idea where you’re coming from. I actually still enjoy black tea, so it’s not all bad. This year’s biggie is going to bed early and rising early.
My thinking is that the small sacrifices we make during Lent are like an exercise plan to get us in shape for the larger sacrifices living a moral life sometimes requires of us. It’s a light-weights, high reps plan. 😉 So it’s not about punishing ourselves so much as it is building willpower. I prefer to take aim at a bad habit if there’s an obvious one, but last year I had a lot of things on my plate and the tea thing was just right – something that required frequent effort of will but wasn’t overwhelmingly huge.
I’m interested to hear what/if you’ve settled on something!
This explanation made an approach that I had previously considered silly and pointless make sense. Thank you!
You’re welcome! I get to explain Lent to my almost 5 year old this year and I find that catechizing him always lends clarity to my own understanding of things. 🙂
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