What if I'm at the midpoint of Lent and not
much is going on?
I began with the best of intentions, but I am not sure what I'm doing
or what I want to be doing. Can my Lent be 'rescued"? Can a six
week journey be completed in the remaining next two or three weeks -
waiting for my heart to be open? Of course, the answer is “yes.”
It doesn't take long for God, when we are ready.
to begin again
The first step to beginning again has already begun, if I have the desire
for something real during Lent. A therapist once said that "we
get better when we get tired of not being better." This isn't the
same as "guilt." Feeling guilty for not doing much about Lent
won't get us very far. What we need is a real desire - a real sense
of expectation that God has something for me to hear, to learn, to change,
and I want to be ready to listen.
This desire can co-exist with fear, with
resistance, with bad habits that have been obstacles in the past. God
doesn't need much of an opening to begin to free us and show us a transforming
A little desire is enough to shape deeper
Once we can say we want to make something of these precious days remaining
in Lent, then we can start naming some more specific desires.
For some of us, it is obvious. There
is a big, glaring self-defeating pattern staring us in the face. Most
of the time, however, it takes a little reflection, a bit of honest
examination of conscience to really see what is getting in the way of
my being a follower of Jesus.
After some reflection, I might admit
that there is a streak of stubbornness or impatience or harshness that
keeps putting me at odds with people. Perhaps there is an old wound
or a fresh experience of hurt or loss that has turned into a festering
anger that robs me of simple joys and sorrows or compassion for suffering
of others. Maybe I am obsessed with how I look - how others see me -
and my choices each day are guided by what will make other people like
me, and my mood each day goes up and down depending upon people's response
to me. I might somehow know that I'm compensating for some emptiness
or loneliness or sadness or insecurity by trying to fill in what is
missing with quite temporary satisfaction – over-eating, drinking
too much, escaping in sexual fantasy or pornography or masturbation.
Perhaps I know that my conflicts with my spouse are getting to a bad
place, but because my spouse won't do what I want him/her to do - won't
be self-sacrificing in loving me - so I refuse to die to myself in loving
him/her. Or it might have gotten worse – to the point that I’m
punishing him/her by my silence or withdrawal of attention, affection,
time. And, maybe a homily or something I read recently made me realize
that I really have not paid attention to the needs of the poor - and
perhaps I've even taken stands and voted against issues and candidates
who stand on the side of the poor. After some reflection, I may just
realize I'm not very grateful for what has been given me, and therefore,
I'm just not very happy, generous or free.
Lent begins when I can say "Help
Now I can turn to the Lord, with some real, concrete desires. Now I
can practice waking up each morning and naming a desire - while I'm
putting on my slippers, or taking a shower or getting dressed: "Lord,
it feels so good to be honest with myself before you. Let me know your
presence today. Help me face the challenges that will be there today.
Give me some more freedom to make different choices, and act on the
graces you are giving me, to refrain from escaping, but rather to give
myself to loving, as you have loved me." Imagine all the different
prayers like that - one minute long - that would shape our day! With
these desires to let God's grace transform me, then I can pause before
going to bed each night, and look back through the day to thank God
for the places I felt God's presence and help.
Focusing Lent with a Plan
If we have a plan, we are more likely to follow it. That plan can have
the following elements, which will give real purpose in vitality to
our Lenten experience.
- What am I going
to give up each day?
This is something I need to fast from, abstain from every day. For
most of us it means that whenever we feel the temptation to do something
that is a bad pattern, we will recognize it quickly and refrain from
doing it. It is basically training in self-discipline, for the purpose
of letting God’s grace have a chance to work in us. So, if being
crabby or impatient with various people throughout my day is my struggle,
then each morning I can ask for the grace to give that up today. And,
I can practice some response that will replace it. Perhaps I will
try to see the other person the way God sees him/her. Perhaps I will
imagine some pain or struggle or insecurity that could be the reason
that they are annoying me. Perhaps I just need to say something affirming
or complementary to the person. Or, if I’m tempted to escape
in fantasy throughout the day, I can ask for the grace each morning
to live with and embrace the real human beings I live with today.
- How can I be generous today?
Almsgiving has been such an important part of Lent. For most of us
it involves being more generous to the poor. For some of us, it will
mean giving money to the poor for the first time. For others, this
may be the time for me to prepare food for a meal program in my city.
For some of us, it could mean deciding some simplifying of our food
patterns or entertainment, and giving that amount of money saved each
week to the poor. It is again, all about, de-selfishing ourselves,
so that God can free us to be more comfortable with the graces of
gratitude and generosity.
Let’s give Lent a new start in
the days ahead. God is offering us more than we can ask or imagine.