One Week In — Checking my Lenten Progress

We’ve been hearing from so many people that they prefer to add something for Lent, that “giving something up” “misses the point.”  The truth is, I think that it is easy to miss the point whether you add or subtract during Lent, because the point is to be INTENTIONAL in a SPIRIT OF SACRIFICE.  As we proceed through Lent, checking our intention can help to make sure that whatever we do is truly meaningful.

Here are my reflections on a few of my Lenten plans:

40 bags in 40 days — is it LENTEN or just a spring cleaning exercise?  For me I think that I will admit this year that it is the latter.  Spring cleaning is good, but let me not fool myself in to thinking that I am pitching expired medicines out of my bathroom cabinet for God.  I might be, if I remembered to treat this as work and to offer it up, but truly I am doing it for my own convenience and for a desire for order.  I am not “giving up” possessions to the poor, I am really just throwing away the garbage that has accumulated in my house since last March.  In fact, the tasks on this list could be a distraction from times when I really should be doing more contemplative prayer.  I’m going to keep doing them, but I think it will help to see them for what they are for me at this stage in my journey.

Stations of the Cross — We did Stations at the parish with some other young families last Friday.  I want to make this a priority, and yet I just said “yes” to TWO conflicting obligations.  I need to remember that this act of piety is hugely important to my keeping of Lent, and that it can also be a SACRIFICE of TIME if I have to say NO to something I would rather do or move other things around in my week.

Spiritual Reading with the Kids — Our Tomie de Paolo Bible is divided in to 37 stories, which seemed to fit pretty nicely for Lent, so I have made that the read aloud choice for the little boys, and we are really enjoying it.  It is easy sometimes to forget that my younger children have not been through all of this over and over again, as it feels that my older children have.  I need to be more intentional about living the liturgical year with my little guys, and this has been a great first step, at least they will have the basic framework of salvation history leading up to the Easter Triduum.  Now, I realized a little late that it would be great if my older children had some special reading for Lent.  I am going to give that some more thought over the next few days.  It’s never too late!

Giving Something Up — In the past we have given up meat fully throughout Lent, but that wasn’t going to work for me this year.  Then, I just sort of dropped the ball on doing anything else concrete.  As my kids sat around after lunch eating cookies and M&Ms, I was thinking about the way that my grandparents kept Lent.  There was a real, simple 40 day fast — they did not have alcohol, they did not have snacks between meals, they did not have dessert.  Life didn’t look all that abnormal, but they were eating just to fuel their bodies.  This doesn’t have to be a monastic extreme of bread and water, but right now I think we in our house are proceeding as if nothing is different.  I think that food is the most basic stuff of our life, and we have it abundantly, so this is an area where we clearly could benefit from simplifying during Lent.  I think I would like to just get all of the sweets out of the house.  This will make Easter that much more exciting.

The BIG QUESTIONS: At a meditation recently, the priest made such a simple, profound statement:  The purpose of our life is sanctity, to grow close to God and be saints in Heaven.  Wow.  Okay, we know this, but do we really think about it often?  Do we really check this purpose when making decisions?  I am trying to use this very basic, very important point to check my intentions in whatever decisions I make.  It is making some things which used to seem complicated rather easy.  One problem that I have recognized already is the struggle between my worldly desires and what I know is right.  Often, my worldly desires are not for inherently bad things but they are things which distract me from the greater good.

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  • Jennifer

    So interesting! I’ve had similar thoughts about 40 bags in 40 days. I love doing it, but I am having trouble seeing the connection to Lent as I clean out the medicine cabinet. It just doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, both because I enjoy decluttering and for the most part we are getting rid of stuff we don’t want.

  • I agree so much with everything you wrote here! This year, I have made a particular prayer commitment that for me is a big sacrifice in time, and it has made a huge difference in my overall heart this Lent. Everyday, I have an opportunity to seriously refocus my attitude, and it has been wonderful!

    I love what Texas Mommy wrote last week. How is this particular Lenten devotion a reminder to rest in Him? Retreating from the world is fantastic, but we must be headed toward Christ, not just running away from the things that drive us nuts! I have to be really intentional about my Lenton sacrifices and make sure that each one is drawing me closer to God, helping me to rest in Him. Otherwise I very easily lose focus and stop doing things with the right attitude.

    In my case, decluttering does not draw me closer to God. I enjoy it far too much and do it naturally with the seasons. Food doesn’t really cut it either. Intense dietary sacrifices make my life more complicated, and I wind up spending extra time dealing with my dietary restrictions plus the things I have voluntarily chosen to forgo during Lent! My time is much more wisely spent adding something that very directly draws me closer to God. And small food sacrifices that are much more practical, like going without sugar in my coffee, not purchasing sweets for the house, etc., are small acts that can be done with great love.

    Like you, we are very busy and so a sacrifice of time to draw closer to God in a very direct way is really important for me and our family. Things like stations of the cross, daily Mass, adoration, daily quiet prayer time for the family, adding a daily family rosary, night prayers, etc., are what my family needs to keep things focused on God and the season. I think you have exactly the right idea!

  • Family Snodgrass

    I heard the pastor at our parish speak twice on Lent, once in a Homily and once at a Bible study, and he emphasized that there are three components to Lenten observance: 1. fasting 2. almsgiving 3. prayer. He said that prayer is the most important part, but that we are also to give things up AND add things in. I found this very enlightening!

  • Katrina

    Recently, I was reflecting on the gospel passage where the woman pours an entire alabaster jar of oil over Jesus’ head. While the disciples complain of her wastefulness, Jesus praises her greatly for her actions. Suddenly, I saw this story in a whole new light: Nothing is wasted on Jesus. No time or effort that we spend on Jesus or for his glory is wasted. Praise God for this Lenten time, when we get the chance to actively draw closer to Jesus, whatever that means for us right now.

  • This is a beautiful thought Katrina, thank you so much for sharing it!

  • Mary Alice

    Yes! I think that the first year it was really a good labor for me, letting go of clothes that don’t fit from a life I don’t have anymore, for example, but now it is literally cleaning out under the bathroom cabinets! On the other hand, I am refocusing it as an exercise in discipline. Part of what we are working on here is the fortitude to do what you are asked to do whether you want to or not, so taking the five minutes to hit each of these spots can be lived well, I think, with that in mind.

  • Mary Alice

    This reminds me of the morning offering as well — ideally, I live presence of God all day, but if I don’t my morning offering can carry me through, I have offered my day to God whether I continue to be intentional or not. Perhaps I should do the same with Lent, pray now and offer the small sacrifices to God, so that when things slip in to habit at least it is all to the good.

  • Queen B

    I have been thinking about doing my spring cleaning this year as part of the Easter season “celebration,” because like you I decided not to do 40 bags this year. I realized that I only had a tiny bit of time “to myself” a few afternoons a week, and I could either use it for prayer or for decluttering/organizing. I decided to prioritize prayer for this season, which means that the cleaning will have to wait.