…return to me with all your heart…Joel 2:12
We’re only a couple days away from a great chance to grow in holiness. In my younger years I sort of looked at lent with dread. I would think about the deprivation and sacrifice and the certain disappointment as I faced my lack of discipline in keeping my lenten plans. I remember one year in junior high I decided I really wanted to show Jesus how much I loved him so I was determined to eat nothing but lettuce, tuna and oranges from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. I think I lasted until the first Monday of lent before I blew it. I still remember how disappointed I was in myself. I truly felt I had let Jesus down.
I often look back to that lent as the perfect “what not to do” story. Jesus already experienced the crucifixion…he doesn’t expect us to do it too. He doesn’t want to be honored by our ridiculous plans for intense self deprivation. I think the goal of lent is to grow in holiness not loose 20 pounds and run 14 miles a day. Sometimes I think we approach lent with a vengeance to make up for the New Year resolutions we blew by the end of January. Lent is not that! I think it’s about picking a few meaningful things that will pull us away from the world and lead us closer to him. It’s not just about one thing, it’s really about three things.
Think of a camera tripod, it has three legs and if one of them breaks, the whole thing falls out of balance and becomes ineffective. Lent is like that tripod; it has three parts, each with an important role in balance. The first leg is prayer, the second is almsgiving and the third is fasting. When we focus only on fasting from certain food (usually the thing we like the most) and thats where we direct all of our energy we miss out on the joys and blessings of the other two legs. We can fast from lots of things like screen time, complaining, gossip, shopping or wasting time; it’s not all about chocolate and fries. Eating fewer calories won’t necessarily help us grow in holiness. If you have an unhealthy addiction to ice cream or Fritos and your intention is to honor the body God gave you by treating it with health and greater respect thats great but the whole junior high lettuce, tuna orange thing was about me; not about growing in holiness so it’s no wonder my tripod tipped over that lent!
Make sure as you approach lent this year you give serious thought to the plans you’re making for prayer and giving. It will be great to go through closets and give away some of the things we don’t need as much as someone else might but what if I gave away stuff and time? What if after I dropped off that bag of clothes to charity I stopped to visit someone who is sick or lonely; maybe even a stop at a nursing home just to visit or pray with someone? There are dozens of great books about wonderful spiritual things I’d like to order but I think I’ll donate the money I would have spent on a new book to read during lent to a charity and read one of the ones I already have but haven’t opened yet. I know myself…if I don’t make the plan and put it on paper so I can pray over it for a few days I’ll wind up doing something silly that isn’t sustainable and won’t really help me grow in holiness. I think it’s really more about small and consistent than huge and short term. With everything on my lenten list, I have to ask myself; will this pull me away from the world and lead me closer to Jesus.
I spent Saturday with a fabulous group of women who gave up their entire Saturday to grow in faith. They laughed easy and prayed hard and they were a delight to be with. I ended the day by attending Mass with many of them and their priest, Fr. Dwight gave a wonderful homily. The one line he used that I just loved was this; Lent is like Gods great recycling bin! I think we can all use a little holiness spruce up and lent is the perfect time for that.
A Seed To Plant: Sit down and sketch out your lent plans in writing and pray with them a couple days and ask Jesus if they will help you grow closer to him. Don’t forget to make a plan that includes all three legs of the tripod…prayer, fasting and giving.
Blessings on your day.
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