Getting Ready for Lent

Getting Ready for Lent February 12, 2024

It’s almost time for Lent!  Are you ready?

Over the years, I’ve written pieces for Aleteia, National Catholic Register, Catholicmom, and the Catholic Standard about Lent.  Some of the best ones are “What to Give up for Lent,”  and “Ways to Make This Lent a Feast of Virtue,” and “This Lent, Try Becoming a Friend of Jesus,” and  “Ten Tips for When Your Kids don’t want to do Lent.”

At fifty-seven, I’ve experienced those Lents that can only be described as transformative and memorable, when I know my faith deepened, and I knew God brought me to see Him in the desert.  My sophomore year in college comes to mind.  I’d been cruising through my major. My relationships with my boyfriend and my best friend were strong.

However, the week before Lent it occurred to me, that something of my life, of this life, felt flat. 

As I shuffled through my thoughts at the end of lunch that Saturday, the table next to me distracted and annoyed.  One woman was on the floor laughing so hard, I thought her drunk.  Her friends likewise were besides themselves with laughter.  Each wore a nametag.  I asked, “What’s so funny?” and they told me they were reliving some moments from their volunteer work.  They volunteered on weekends with a local recreation program.

I seldom volunteered, so this seemed like a good and “different” Lent resolution.
That next Saturday came hard.  Seven-thirty in the morning feels earlier when it’s February in Southbend, Indiana, there are no buses to where you need to go, and the air fills your nose with the lovely aroma of ethanol.

Some of the people I’d seen at lunch saw me walking and gave me a ride.   The Lent ran by quickly, and I wound up getting a Master’s degree in Special Education in no small part because of the experience.    Good Lents leave marks that stretch out long past the forty days, on one’s life, on the heart, and on others lives.

As an adult, I’ve sought to recreate the richness of that Lent other Lents,  but that sort of approach is the exactly wrong way to do Lent well.  The best way to enter Lent is with your heart wide open, and sort of blindfold your brain to your own past spiritual experiences.  What cultivates the soul towards God is different at different stages of one’s life.

God is always there, in our good and bad Lents. 

He longs for us to discover Him in his blessed weakness, in the joy of service, in the silence of prayer, in the surrender of our will to His of our own free gifting.    It’s a process, it is a grace, but it is also not a spiritual fitness program where one can plug in ten Hail Mary’s and instantly know, “I’m closer to God now.”

Most of the time if you look at scripture, people are very good at pursuing God the wrong way. We’re also very good at running away from God, at distracting ourselves with everything other than God, and at denying the need of God.  We mess up every way possible because we are stupid like sheep.

We must become like children, who seek to enter into Lent not so God will be pleased, but because we wish to please God.   Children bring in flowers they’ve picked because they wish to please their mom or their grandmother, or someone they love.   Lovers bring flowers to delight their beloved.   So also, bringing our Lent to God, our intent, our desire for closeness, delights our Lord.  He will re-order us so that we can grow in grace if we let Him, even if we struggle with our Lent.   

Another great Lent came from calling my sister each day to pray an Our Father. It was a way of grieving the loss of our father, and cultivating our own relationship that often relied on the past rather than present connection.

Looking back at pieces I’ve written over the years, I found a quote of wisdom from a friend that really sums up the best advice I know on pursing a Lenten resolution.  “Whenever you doubt yourself, remember that God really loves your heart infinitely and let that be your guide.”  Her wisdom holds for every day battles like homework and what’s for dinner and countless little tasks, and for Lent.  God loves our hearts infinitely, and longs to guide us deeper into His.

So enjoy this Mardi Gras and this Lent.  It is a spiritual gift, a forty day retreat designed to strengthen us for all the days ahead.   What a joy to begin this season so soon into the year.

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