How do You Know Lent is Working? Are You Failing Yet?

How do You Know Lent is Working? Are You Failing Yet? February 26, 2024

painting of a church at night with stars and a moon.
Image courtesy of Katie Hall.

Painting by Katie Hall back when she was Katie Hall (my cousin).  It’s the grotto and Notre Dame and the walk where my husband and I took that first fateful walk together.   I also associate that university with Lent because it was there I experienced my first “successful” Lent, and a few others, where going out into the desert meant an encounter with Christ and the beginnings of a vocation.  It’s also my dad’s alma mater, he sang me the fight song at our wedding, and Lent is a time I remember him since he died on Ash Wednesday.  My dad, Notre Dame, Lent, they’re all linked in my heart.   This past Sunday, I remembered, it would be ten years since his death on March 5th, and it drove me to tears at the mass.

I really should know better, after decades of Lents, of knowing the spiritual trials and pitfalls of Lent.

We all know that prayer and fasting and almsgiving help us shed some of our sins, habits and weaknesses, but it is an ongoing struggle every day, and most especially during Lent.   So I thought I would pray for particular people each day, and write down who they were in my calendar.  The first week went well.

After that, the wheels came off the train, as I forgot again and again and again or got too busy to pray.

Once again, I knew the reality, that just as the apostles fell asleep or scattered so also, I’d fallen asleep and remained scattered.  Lent is about recognizing not merely the need of prayer, but how difficult it is and how much we need God’s constant pouring out of grace just to get through the day.

On Ash Wednesday, I attended a wake, and was reminded that at some points, I’ve cooperated better with God.  “Prayer warrior.” I’d been called.  The words haunted me.  However, that’s the great gift of Lent, each day to begin again, and to stop trying to “win” at Lent, and just let one’s self keep attempting to go out into the desert.  God will meet us wherever it is we happen to be.   The grief of the Sunday mass was a genuine moment of feeling the desert, and a reminder of how we must empty ourselves to leave room for the infinity that is God.

Monday came.  I am still mulling over what God wants to tell me these 40 days.  Being patient and silent isn’t my forte, but I think both are becoming necessary if I want to hear that still small voice.

Writing likewise felt like talking, not listening, so I’d been putting it off but it’s also how I collect my thoughts.  Somehow, having to struggle to pull words felt like taking those steps onto the soft hot sand.   Lent requires us to keep going, to let our feet sink, and to recognize we cannot survive out here in the spiritual vastness absent God’s grace.    All that thinking led me back to my aunt’s wisdom.  She used to say, “All is grace,” and loved Saint Therese of the Little Flower –who would have echoed those words with her own understanding of how everything can lead us to Christ.

Even failing Lent –today, yesterday, keep at it, and keep going.   Prayer warriors don’t win, they just don’t stop praying.   That was the reality I was being called back to, to be a woman of prayer first.    
Everything else, afterwards.

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