Here we are again, coming up on another Lent. It is time to contemplate what we can do to “de-clutter the space” between us and God. In some cases this might me taking things away, and in other cases it might mean adding something. In either case nothing should be done without first consulting the One you are trying to ultimately reach, meaning first you should pray and ask God to reveal what parts of your life need work before carving away at your habits or adding a ridiculously challenging penance.
For instance, (you may have heard this story before) one year I gave up, of all things, chocolate! Yes, I the chocolatarian decided that giving up Chocolate for the entirety of Lent would be a really effective penance. After only a few days, I was miserable, and offering up my misery wasn’t enough, so I was inflicting my misery on everyone else, especially my husband, and children. Halfway through that Lent I was so miserable I went to confession to discuss my misery, and a very wise priest told me that I should never attempt to give up Chocolate for Lent ever again. His reasoning was that unless what you choose to give up actually does bring you closer to God, what good does it do to give it up, especially when it makes everyone around you miserable for the entire time.
This priest was the first person to ask me if I had consulted God in prayer before determining what I was planning for Lent. Of course I hadn’t, I thought since I loved chocolate so much, giving it up would show God how serious I was about Lent. This was the flaw in my reasoning Father said; Lent ISBN’ about proving something to God, Lent is about wanting to begin to affect actual lifelong change that will de-clutter that space between and bring you closer to God. If your Lenten penance is something that you give up for 40 days only to take it back up on Holy Saturday (or Holy Thursday depending upon how you determine the end of Lent) the what profit have you gained from it?
Your Lenten activity or penance should at the end of the Forty Days profit your relationship with God in some tangible way. It should make you stronger, bring you more peace, and/or help you to learn something about God, the Church, Scripture, or Tradition. It should also be balanced with charity, temperance , humility, and grace. An example of this might be: you struggle with high blood pressure. After prayer and contemplation discern that for your health it would be a good to give up red meat for Lent. Your in-laws invite you to dinner and your mother-in-law has spent the entire day cooking a beautiful roast, but you don’t eat any and you announce to the entire dinner table that you cannot eat her wonderful meal because you have given up red meat for Lent. The more charitable responses would be to either keep silent and eat everything at the dinner including a small helping of roast or, eat only the sides without letting anyone know that you have skipped the the main dish. In fact you should go through the entire forty days of Lent without anyone knowing what you have given up unless it is necessary for that person to know. The world does not have to be your accountability monitor, and certainly all of Facebook doesn’t have to know how much you are struggling with temptation.
One of the best ideas I have ever had about what to “give up” for Lent came the year I found myself in discernment being called to abandon worry for Lent. That entire Lent every time I began to worry I would stop myself with a reminder that I had given that up for Lent and had to leave the situation in God’s capable hands. It became so freeing to realize that God could handle any situation much better than I could with all of my worry. That freedom for worry remained with me after Lent and to this day nearly the years later. Now each year I discern in prayer if there is some aspect of my life that I could do without, and I work on that during Lent.
If I discern to add something during Lent there are many things from which to choose. I might attend an extra daily Mass, or Adoration, or a daily Rosary or Chaplet. I might choose a book of the bible to focus on for reading and study. I might pick a spiritual book, either a newer book or a classic to read or re-read. I might take a retreat somewhere. I might join a group for prayer or bible study. Again, remembering that these are done with virtue, meaning if something should derail my ability to accomplish one or two of my Lenten devotions I will see those things as being sent by God and not let them ruin my entire Lent, because all is gift, even the little annoyances and changes in schedule that cause us to have to alter our carefully laid plans.
I am still in discernment for this year, but I do have a few ideas about what will de-clutter the space between me and God. This Lent should be a revealing journey.
Have you been praying to discern what your Lent will look like?