By Sr. Mary Peter Martin, FSP
When I think of letting go, I picture the trees I saw in Italy on one of my visits. They had been cut back so severely that I assumed they were going to be cut down. When I returned later that spring I was thrilled to see these same trees blossoming with delicate leaves and fragrant blossoms. Those trees taught me a powerful lesson: sometimes we feel that we have been “pruned” so much that we won’t recover. However, cutting back, getting rid of extra growth, letting go, focuses all one’s energy into the new life that is to be born.
Lent is really about precisely this—focusing on new life. We die to the old self-centered ways, to bad habits, perhaps to ways of communicating that are destructive like constant complaining or sarcastic remarks, the list goes on and on and is unique to each one of us. Just as pruning makes a plant healthier, cutting back and letting go of bad habits helps our interior life to blossom. As we blossom, it is very satisfying to experience greater intimacy with God.
Jesus wants to fill our hearts with his love. We simply throw aside whatever keeps us from him. So this Lent, let go, give it all up…
One secret I have learned is that as we grow older we may find ourselves with fewer “bad” habits to let go of. Instead our days might be filled with things that occupy our time which are not bad in themselves, but which, so to say, weaken “the plant.” It might be excessive internet or cell phone usage which fills up more and more of our time fragmenting our attention.
Perhaps it is a type of television show or a particular magazine we read that is not bad in itself but which in some way is taking up the space and time which could be spent on those things that make our spirit more strong. Maybe it is a habit of acquiring possessions: what I have in my house that I wouldn’t dream of giving away or something online that I am determined to buy. What matters is this: Does this habit lead me to God or is it taking up time that I could use to give to a family member, or a friend, or prayer? Does it lead me to gratitude? Is it making me a better person all around? Do I feel free when I do these things? Or do I feel empty when I’m finished? What we can’t let go of, what we don’t use in freedom and gracious respect, somehow saps us of spiritual vigor. Pruning, letting go, although it is hard, allows our spirit to blossom once more.
I remember two women whom I met during my years of door-to-door evangelization. One woman in South Boston invited us into her home. She told us she was downsizing because, as she said, “I don’t have much time to live on this earth.” She spoke with serenity and confidence about the after life. Before we left she offered us a large punch bowl set since she knew she would no longer be entertaining guests. Another woman was struggling with having to sell her house and move to an assisted living facility. Pointing to her many knick-knacks she said bitterly, “How can I give all of these up? It isn’t fair that I have to give them away!”
Letting go of things happens more and more as we grow older, and if we are honest the opportunities are all around us. We have to let go when we leave one job and take up another, sell a house or empty an apartment, see children marry and move away, let go of a grudge we’ve carried all our life, reach out with affection to someone we dislike, or even when the doctor tells us, “No more salt!” Each of these “letting go” moments carry with them the promise of Spring.
Jesus wants to fill our hearts with his love. We simply throw aside whatever keeps us from him. So this Lent, let go, give it all up…anything and everything that makes you less free. Then God, the eternal Springtime of Hope, will cause your life to blossom and become fruitful in ways that you’d never imagine. It will all become worth it as Jesus takes up his home in you this Eastertide.
Sr. Mary Peter Martin entered the Daughters of St. Paul fifty years ago. Before the US bishops set up an office for evangelization, Sr. Mary Peter served for ten years on the Board of Directors of the National Council for Catholic Evangelization. Sr. Mary Peter has a Master’s in Religious Education from Boston College. When asked if she’d become a religious sister again she says, “I like to use the words of our founding Sister in the USA, Mother Paula Cordero: ‘If I had a hundred lives, I’d give them all as a Daughter of St. Paul.’