Lenten Failure and Easter Triumph

Lenten Failure and Easter Triumph April 1, 2012

At the beginning of Lent I felt extremely thankful, almost exuberant, at the healthy arrival of my daughter Josie.  Our family had survived another pregnancy with mom functioning at less than full capacity. The pain, sickness, exhaustion, and worry of pregnancy were over.  The first difficult postpartum month was behind us.  For the first time in 10 months I felt like my body, and our family routine, were headed in the right direction.

I felt so thankful and enthusiastic that I wanted to show God my gratitude in a big way.  I planned to give up coffee for Lent.

My grand Lenten plan did not involve forgoing all caffeine.  I figured I would just replace the coffee with tea or an afternoon coke.  I would be without the delicious taste of coffee, but not the energy it provided.  For the first several days I followed this replacement model, and I dealt with the headaches by popping a couple of ibuprofen.  I was tired and irritable, but I tried my best to offer it up and I “knew” that I’d be back to my old self after a week.

10 days passed, and my experiment, err Lenten sacrifice, was an epic failure.  The “replacement” caffeine wasn’t cutting it.  I was so tired and miserable that Mr. Red ordered me to start drinking coffee again.  “Choose mortifications that don’t mortify others,” were his exact words.  Ouch.  It was a big piece of humble pie.  I felt like a failure.  How could I fail so miserably to give up something so small for God?

On the order of my husband, I started drinking coffee again the next day (albeit without sugar), and with that first cup, sip by sip, I slowly felt the energy return to my body.  As I drank I started to feel hopeful, and happy.   It was at this point that I realized the full strength of my addiction.

I spent the next several days full of energy but incredibly disturbed that my lifestyle necessitated large doses of caffeine to function.  I simply wasn’t getting enough sleep to have any energy without the help of caffeine, and there was really no way to get the sleep I needed with our large brood of children and a nursing infant.  Homeschooling, soccer practice, swimming, piano, and baseball couldn’t just be put on hold for months while mom got extra sleep.

It would be several more months before the baby’s sleep schedule was stable enough for me to consistently get quality sleep at night.  And without the coffee, I was done.  This realization made me feel incredibly out of control, weak, and humbled.  My Lent was a failure.   I couldn’t even give up something as simple as coffee for God.  I was a spiritual loser.

I spent a week or two thinking about my failure and feeling very weak.  But then I had a revelation, or rather I was reminded of something that I should have known all along—I can’t earn Easter.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In my crazy busy life with five young children, I need a lot of grace.  Even if I have an amazing schedule in place, outside help, an amazing husband, and coffee! it will all fall apart without the grace of God.  I can’t do it without God’s grace.

And so as Lent draws to a close, I am meditating a lot on my own weakness, I’m praying for God’s grace, and I’m thanking Jesus for the great gift of Easter.  My type A personality has a hard time accepting that intense Lenten sacrifices such as wearing sackcloth and ashes, great fasts, hours in prayer, or even a coffee-less Lent for a tired postpartum mom don’t earn Easter.  But they don’t.  No matter how intense the sacrifice, it can’t earn Easter.

Easter isn’t earned.  It is given as a great gift of love to all God’s children.  And I thank God for this reminder every morning as I drink my cup of coffee.

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  • Katrina

    This is great, Kellie, thank you. Every morning as I drink my coffee, I’ll remember to thank God for his boundless love and the gift of Easter!

  • Bethany “B-mama”

    Wonderful thoughts, Kel. His Grace IS sufficient and we always need to remember that–especially us, Catholics. Catholic guilt is like no other!! I am embracing this last week of Lent as a chance to invigorate some of my earlier (and now failing) sacrifices/additions… For example, the kids and I are a week behind on our Jesus Tree and I’m gunning to catch up this week!! Finish strong!

  • Karen

    Maybe it is our failed, fleshly, lent attempts that make us so appreciative of Easter? See, you’re right on the ball. Great post! It is important to prepare our heart and minds for the coming of Easter, but we have to balance that – with like you said – with that we can’t earn Easter. Your humble honesty is so encouraging, practical and real! Thanks 🙂

  • Amy B

    Amen! Amen! What a great reflection to begin Holy Week!

  • awolmommy

    Kellie, I could have written this! Thank you for giving voice to my exact Lenten experience this year in such a true and profound post. He is entering Jerusalem about now, the big day is on the horizon!

  • Amen! I’m right there with you. I “failed” at nearly all my Lenten disciplines this year, even when I tried to restart and restart again. Your post reminded me of Mother Teresa’s wise words that we are not called to be successful, but to be faithful. Yet I continue to equate faithfulness with success in my mind – if I’m not “successful” at Lent, then I haven’t been faithful. Completely forgetting that I will always be an imperfect sinner and that Easter isn’t earned. So true!

  • Kathleen

    I feel your pain on the coffee! I had to give up my three cups of Java a day for heart issues and I can’t even drink coke or tea of its caffeinated. Hardest thing ever. My daughter kept asking me what was wrong with me. I’m now 2 and half
    Months since my last cup of coffee. It does get a little better and I drink decaf occasionally but if you don’t need to give it up don’t!!!!

  • Brynne

    I, too, started Lent with such good intentions and it all fell apart. Now I’m sitting on modified bedrest for my fourth baby, accepting help from everyone (which my husband says maybe God chose for me this Lent — accepting help), trying my best to be patient. Just yesterday the devotion sent out to my moms’ group was almost the EXACT same story, about a mom of a large family with a newborn whose Lent didn’t go as planned and her realization that Lent isn’t about what she does. I’m thinking that the giant message of my inability to earn Easter must be what I need to hear.

  • Kelli R.

    From Father Tisserant to the future St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on March 9, 1806, at the start of her second Lent as a convert to Catholicism:

    “You tell me that you were prevented from going to church on Ash Wednesday…. Your Lent has commenced with a sacrifice and with mortification of the will, and with good resolutions which I hope God will bless. Strengthen them with what the Church enjoins at this holy time. But do not exaggerate things. Remember what you have to do as a mother and in the employment which you have undertaken….”

    “As Lent drew to an end and the Church’s call to penance grew more insistent, Tisserant warned her lest she think the message meant for her, and commanded her to put off to a later time, when she should be stronger, the penitential practices she was eager to perform. With great wisdom, he substituted for her devotion on Good Friday a practice that was wholly spiritual:

    Cast yourself in the arms of an expiring Savior. Give yourself to Him, and dwell upon the confidence and consolation which this great mystery should inspire. You have told me that the Heart of Jesus was your refuge. Let it be so always. Retired within that asylum, what have you to fear? and what can appear to you burdensome and painful?” (Dirvin, Joseph I., C.M., Mrs. Seton: Foundress of the American Sisters of Charity, p. 189)

    I am so thankful for mommy saints to guide us in our own Catholic motherhood.

  • Thank you for finding the words to satisfy the struggle in my heart. I, too, have failed my Lenten sacrifices for the first time in my 12 years since conversion. I gave up Facebook and TV this year and found myself “peeking in on FB” daily. Each time I felt guilt, but continued to do it. My children have been so wonderful at remembering and fulfilling their sacrifices and I have felt like such a sinner.

    Thank you for reminding me that Easter can not be earned.

  • Kellie “Red”

    My friend Kelli followed up her above comment with the following e-mail that I found insightful and wanted to share,

    “It seems that some push a hard, sacrificial Lent, even for mothers, that I personally always found impossible given lack of sleep, hypoglycemia, and other physical trials that always seemed to hit at this time of year, making me feel like a real wimp and causing me to develop a Lent-phobia with unfortunate spiritual implications. It was reassuring for me to see that way-back-when (1806) there was a recognition and respect for the demands of motherhood and other endeavors God has called us to which may trump some of the more severe Lenten penances.”

  • I think that this is very insightful. As mothers of young children, there are many physical and emotional demands that are just a part of daily life, and that can make it very difficult to add extra physical and emotional penances during Lent.
    Last year’s Lent (2011) was the first in 8 years when I hadn’t been pregnant or nursing, and do you know what? – I dreaded it, because I had no reason to not fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday! I have such a hard time with fasting, and those two days were so hard! This year, I’m pregnant again and find myself needing to eat on these 2 days – of course I can make the food unappealing by omitting salt and sugar, not heating up the food, etc., but I just can’t fast or I won’t get through the day. Knowing this is a relief!

  • And just a follow-up: There are plenty of things that we CAN do during Lent as mothers, and we need to be honest with ourselves about what these things are. I think that we can also share these ideas, to encourage and inspire each other.

  • Kellie “Red”

    yes! I mentioned the lack of sugar in my coffee, and while small, it was what I was able to do. Another woman I know with young children gave up sugar in her tea. It was very simple and small, but she had 3 young ones and it was what she could do for God.

    I think that adding something can work well. For example, I added a daily rosary, and others that I know have added a 1/2 hour of mediation/prayer into their day, or they have added daily Mass, adoration weekly, an Angelus before lunch, or something like that. I think these “additions” can be wonderful ways to grow closer to God, give him our time, and perhaps build a new habit after Lent is over.

  • I have ‘added’ things like prayer and extra time with God during Lent. One year I actually added “being more attentive to my husband”. I don’t know why, this year I have just felt off my mark. And my children are really not that young. I don’t know what is up with me this year. (But I will rest in knowing that I am forgiven.)

  • Donna

    “Easter isn’t earned”. That is the best message. Thank you. And I gave up complaining this year and found it very impactful and revealed to me how much I, in fact, do complain. I talked to a priest about how my very life seemed like a constant mortification with four little chubby cheeked mortifiers daily refining me and how I couldn’t stand to think of taking away Diet Coke or other little happys. I hope to do better as I mature. And I like the idea of regrouping for Holy Week.

  • Juris Mater

    I think for me, it’s partially about “earning Easter” (GREAT phrase, by the way, Kellie) but also I feel that if my faith and love were strong enough, Jesus would be enough… even amid the days of 24/7 mortification with constant pregnancy and nursing and little children. Why do I need a.m. coffee and p.m. Diet Dr. Pepper and chocolate to get me through a day without despairing? Because being a daughter of God isn’t enough to make me happy and give me hope every moment?

  • Erin

    I feel like such a Lenten Loser this year too! in my 2nd trimester with our 3rd, there was no way I could give up any foodstuffs. So, I added a daily rosary. But between the uncomfortable pregnancy-sleep and pregnancy anemia, I end up falling asleep every time I start my rosary, no matter the time of day! is that the best I can do for God during this Lent?! Thank you for reminding us of our daily sacrifices as mothers.

    And on a related note, I semi-successfully gave up coffee in my first trimester which was awful, and also taking a hint from my husband that maybe its time to re-introduce the stuff into my morning routine. He started bringing me a 1/2 cup of coffee in bed last week to rouse me. I’ve just accepted it and it has made all the difference :).

  • maryalice

    Just thinking, too, about the idea that it will all fall apart without the grace of God. I totally agree, and it also is all empty without that grace, which gives our lives meaning and purpose.

    Sometimes, when people ask “how do you do it?” I get into the logistics, but the truth is so much deeper, and includes this point, I do it through and because of the grace of God. I am not always sure if I can say this to people, perhaps it is a great apostolic opportunity, because it seems like a lie to just say that how I do it is efficiency in certain areas, etc.