3/23/2008

How I wasted (and didn't waste) Lent '08.

In my last post, I mentioned that I didn't put much effort into Lent this year. I won't make excuses for it. Being busy, tired, worn down, in a funk, or whatever is no excuse for wasting opportunities for grace (in fact, they are reasons to seize those opportunities!). But for whatever reason, I just couldn't get into Lent this year.

I had grand plans. Last year, Lent was amazing. I did daily spiritual reading, prayed the Rosary with regularity, gave things away, kept my difficult Lenten promises .... in 2007, God allowed me to be a Lenten powerhouse and showed me in my first Lent as a Catholic what that season of sacrifice (and so much grace) is really all about.

So what went wrong in '08? The simple (and truthful) answer is, I have no idea. Yes, I was busy. Yes, I'm a tired mother of an active preschooler and a baby. Yes, I'm teaching CCD and RCIA and working from home and recovering from surgery and all the rest. But none of that was it ... it was like I just couldn't, and I mean COULDN'T get into the spirit of the season. I couldn't even try. It felt as if this cloud of dark oppression settled over me from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday and occluded my view of God and all that is holy. I wish I could say I rose to the occasion and plowed through with prayer and deep spiritual exercise. But really, I just did the bare minimum to get by.

Interestingly, I think God was telling me something through all of it. My first Lent as a Catholic, I saw the best of what the season has to offer in terms of growth and grace and spiritual depth. My second year, I saw that the Church in her wisdom has provided us a way to grow at least a little even when we are not at our spiritual best, and it's called obedience. Cling to the precepts of the Church and don't let go.

I kept the fast and abstinence days (except for one lunch time when, as I swallowed my last bite of chicken, I realized with a panic "it's FRIDAY!!!!"). I went to Mass and Confession. I can't say I had a great attitude about any of it. I failed at my Lenten promise (it was to give up meat, and I felt horrible after a week of that and quit and didn't really replace it with anything because it's not required). I prayed much less often than usual, and stopped reading my St. Bernadette book halfway through because I got too busy with other things. And still, by my minimal obedience, God in His time gave me the grace to see that He was with me all along, guiding me through the barren desert even when I couldn't feel Him and despite the fact that I wasn't earnestly seeking him.

My bad attitude and general annoyance at the restrictions of Lent this year did nothing to damage the grace that came from simply obeying the law of the Church. My lack of stamina when it came to my Lenten promise made me appreciate the grace that got me through it last year. In short, I realized two things: 1) I can do NOTHING apart from God who gives me strength, and 2) Obedience brings grace even when done without enthusiasm. God's allowing me to go through this dark night of the soul during what should have been a period of intense fellowship with the Lord seriously wounded my spiritual pride (O happy dagger!) and made me MUCH less judgmental of people who seem to simply "go through the motions" during Lent and other liturgical seasons. Holy Mother Church isn't stupid, and she knew what she was doing when she set the rules. Expecting others (even if those expectations are unspoken) to do more than she prescribes is unfair. Only with the help and grace of God can we do anything good at all. Sometimes I forget that, and this Lent was an important wake-up call.

So my "wasted" Lent, especially when juxtaposed with my awesome Lenten memories from last year, wasn't wasted at all -- it was a valuable experience in several ways and taught me a lesson I'll not soon forget. God's grace is not something I will again take for granted or expect to fit into a pretty box, at least not while this experience is fresh in my mind. (May it stay fresh forever so I don't have to go through this again!) Mind you, I'm not recommending everyone go out and intentionally do the bare minimum for Lent next year as a method of growing closer to God ... I assume everyone reading this is more spiritually advanced than I am and wouldn't benefit from that kind of thing. But for me, finishing up my second year as a Catholic, the experience of basic obedience during a spiritual dry spell was a worthwhile one.

Thankfully, it's over now. God gave me my spiritual "groove" back on Good Friday as I prayed the Stations of the Cross, and the last three days have been wonderful as I feel once more connected to my Lord and my Church. But I have been reminded that faith is not about feelings -- and God is fully, totally, 100% present even when I'm not.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Laurel said...

Found your blog through the 4reallearning blogroll, and I LOVE it! You have a wonderful writing style; this post particularly touched my heart, as Lent was also tepid at best for me this year. After converting 17 years ago, I've also experienced the "highs" and "lows" of our faith. I've found myself in my "desert" times, when I'm just spiritually surviving instead of living life abundantly. Your insights made so much sense to me....it just took me MUCH longer to grasp them than you did!

I'll be back again!
God Bless,
Laurel in PA

5/23/2008 07:54:00 AM  
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