Darkness, At Least

Every year, Lent looks more or less the same for me. I decide on something to give up personally, and usually something for us to give up as a family, and go into it with the same zealotry that I used to reserve for the Slim-Fast Diet. Two weeks in, I’m burnt out. If I gave up sugar, I’ll be holed up in the closet, mainlining seasonally-inappropriate Cadbury mini eggs till I want to puke. If I gave up television, I’ll be knee-deep into a seven-season Doctor Who marathon. If I gave up complaining (a spectacularly memorable Lenten failure) I’ll be rending my garments and pouring ashes on my head while my long-suffering Ogre tries to decide if he should remind me that it’s still Lent after I’ve calmed down or just never.

As Lent approached this year, I found myself weary. Not just tired, but truly soul-weary. The prospect of another Lenten disaster seemed overwhelming. I considered forgoing giving up anything, and instead trying to do some private penance that wouldn’t result in spiritual self-implosion and wallowing. But something Jen wrote about hard stops a few years ago kept popping up in the back of my mind until I finally just gave in and said, “yes, okay. I’ll do that.”

What’s really the source of my weariness, a weariness that’s making itself known in stupid outbursts and a kind of angry, frustrated tone here on my blog and in my real life, is a total lack of peace. My life, at this stage, is not particularly given to much peace. A needy baby who defies schedules, two boisterous toddlers, a spirited seven-year-old, and a hard-working husband mean that my hands, mouth, and mind are busy from sunup to sundown. But actually, it’s not from sunup to sundown. It’s from 6 am until nearly midnight most nights. The day begins and I’ll have only a few things on my list of chores. It all seems manageable. But by 5 pm I’m usually frantic, rushing to get dinner on the table, inevitably trying to finish some task that I’ve forgotten that’s essential for life as we know it to go on tomorrow, barking at the kids to pick up their toys for the millionth time, bouncing a hysterical baby on my hip, and having to force myself to put even a semblance of a smile on my face for the Ogre when he gets home. After dinner it’s a rush to get the kids ready for bed and the dishes done and Lincoln down so I can finish my list of chores. Usually I’ll fall in bed, totally exhausted, at midnight. The only times when I sit down and flip idly through facebook and blogs are when I’m endlessly rocking Lincoln, so by bedtime my head is splitting from staring at my phone’s absurdly tiny screen. And in the few minutes before I fall asleep, I stare at the ceiling and try to pray but mostly just worry. About the bills. About the kids. About the Ogre. About the unanswered emails. About NFP, and what the next few months will bring, and how I can possibly keep doing this.

It’s just no way to live a life. The circumstances of my daily existence are not going to change radically anytime soon. I’m going to have little children for a few more years at least, and with them, chaos and noise and unfinished chores. The only way to bring peace to our life is to change my approach to it.

So for Lent this year, I’m just going to turn everything off when the sun goes down.  Candles only, with the small concessions of a dim light in the kitchen so we don’t break our necks on Legos and small reading-lights so I don’t go blind if I decide to read instead of stare blankly at the black computer screen. Yeah, that’s right. Electronics are included in that. Even my phone. It isn’t a total ban on anything. I can’t do that this year. I can’t do much, really, so I’m giving God the only sacrifice I can and hoping he’ll be with us in the darkness.

I’m under no illusion that this will be easy. But instead of approaching it with dread, I feel a sort of exquisite relief. Like, thinking about how at 7 pm my day will end whether I’ve finished my chores or not is actually bringing tears to my eyes right now. I’m just desperate for an end to the work. Not forever, just for today.

I’m sure by next week I’ll be dying for late-night TV and facebook chats with Kassie, but it will be so good for us, as a family, to have this. A time when the work ends. Peaceful bedtimes when I’m not bundling the kids into bed with hasty prayers and distracted kisses. Stories read aloud. Stories read silently. More sleep. Darkness. Silence. Maybe even peace.

Of course there’s a liturgical significance to this as well, but I’m hoping that God will do the heavy lifting on that one since my entire motivation for choosing this sacrifice is a spiritual and emotional depletion. Lately I keep thinking of Elijah, and how God spoke to him in a still, small voice. If God has been trying to speak to me, I’ve been too distracted to hear him. Maybe this will give us a chance to catch up…a proposition equal parts exciting and terrifying.

Nope, not equal parts. 25% exciting and 75% terrifying.  But, you know, I already have the ashes on my forehead and have written this whole post, so it’s too late to turn back now.

  • http://shinyhappycatholics.blogspot.com Martha

    BRAVE woman! Please keep us updated about how it goes – I’m looking forward to it!!

  • Brigitte

    I like this idea. It is like a mini sabbath each day. God gave us the sabbath because he knows we need to stop the craziness. You are giving yourself that gift every day.

    Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. I am on the other side of raising and homeschooling four closely spaced children. Now I realize how much I expected of myself, a little unrealistically. Breathe and rest and know it is intense but special unrecoverable years in their lives, and yours. God bless you.

  • RuthG

    First time commenter here. After skimming through Jen’s post (I do intend to read it all at some point) and noticing that the first time through she struggled with the candles, I thought I might suggest using a kerosene or oil lamp instead of or with candles. If you are looking to avoid artificial lighting, a lamp will give you more stable, brighter light than a candle alone, and the flame is protected behind glass. Just a quick search on Amazon came up with multiple lamp options, like this one (I know it’s a long URL, but I don’t know how to do live links in a combox, sorry!):
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002YHPVWO/ref=s9_simh_bw_p201_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-11&pf_rd_r=656D1AE38A4F4DA4B98E&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1406753362&pf_rd_i=1057794
    I do think ‘unplugging’ is a great way to slow down and get some rest – I hope it goes well for you!

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