Each Lent begins with my good intentions to pray more, fast more, and love more through my almsgiving and acts of charity. I usually have a little plan that includes some "extras" that I'm adding to my daily routine in each of these areas, to be more structured and disciplined and otherwise intentional about my days.

So here I am a few weeks into Lent and I am really starting to see what is working and, um, what is not . . .

I started out to make this a worthwhile Lent, well-lived and well-prayed. But then the circumstances of my real life got in the way.

Is that a chuckle of recognition? Hear me out.

The thing is that my real life is really the only life that God gave me, and the one he wants to affect—not the supposed compartmentalized spiritual life I might pretend to have, or the life of good intentions. No, all of my life is of a piece; spiritual and temporal are part of the whole of me.

It's easy to feel like a failure due to my unrealized expectations in buoying up the so-called spiritual life. But it is more important to deal with the fact that I may have had some unrealistic expectations, given my current schedule and obligations. I'm re-evaluating my present circumstances about keeping a good Lent while removing unrealistic expectations.

Speaking only for myself, those unrealistic expectations, they get me every time. I frequently suffer from being too hard on myself and not cutting myself a break when I need it most. Over the years, I have made this mistake over and over again: instead of doing what the Holy Spirit seems to be prompting me to do—usually fewer and simpler things with greater verve—I get competitive. I redouble my efforts by striving even harder in teeth-gritting fashion, as I dash headlong into trying to recover what's left of Lent by trying to be extra-extra prayerful or sacrificial, etc., etc. . . . as if I was a lithe runner out to win the anchor lap of a relay race. Well, forget that. That's the lure of my imagination.

Spiritual discipline is just that. It is never found within fits and starts. Progress is always well-timed and even-paced, even if the forward motion is one hard-won inch at a time.

I'm giving myself permission to recalculate my course for Lent, though I'm still far from the end.

What I started to "do" for Lent was not a good fit for the Lent the Lord had actually laid out for me. And so I'm forced to reconcile my real life with my expectations. And dealing honestly with my lame Lent as it is, rather than what I imagined it to be, is so much the wiser for making true spiritual progress.

It never occurred to me, until this week, that God might have something totally different for me to pray, fast, and sacrifice about this Lent. While I was so busy telling God what I was going to do for him and for others, he's been trying to show me something else! So, my intentions must be scaled back to realistically work with this God-delivered Lent.

God's plan all along was that I embrace wholeheartedly three very big tasks during this holy season. Each one is an amazing opportunity for my good growth if I let it be so. What's more, I think God wants and needs me to do these things, and keep a smile on my face as I do them, rather than getting discouraged that I'm failing doing the "extra" x, y, or z's from my original Lenten plan.

These three projects require all of my spiritual and physical energies. They are taking every ounce of my patience and creative vigor. And they are getting it. Unfortunately, I have been slow to "get it."