Am I Making a Good Lent? Or is Lent Making Me Good?

Each Lent begins with my good intentions to pray more, fast more, and love more through my almsgiving and acts of charity. I usually have a little plan that includes some "extras" that I'm adding to my daily routine in each of these areas, to be more structured and disciplined and otherwise intentional about my days.

So here I am a few weeks into Lent and I am really starting to see what is working and, um, what is not . . .

I started out to make this a worthwhile Lent, well-lived and well-prayed. But then the circumstances of my real life got in the way.

Is that a chuckle of recognition? Hear me out.

The thing is that my real life is really the only life that God gave me, and the one he wants to affect—not the supposed compartmentalized spiritual life I might pretend to have, or the life of good intentions. No, all of my life is of a piece; spiritual and temporal are part of the whole of me.

It's easy to feel like a failure due to my unrealized expectations in buoying up the so-called spiritual life. But it is more important to deal with the fact that I may have had some unrealistic expectations, given my current schedule and obligations. I'm re-evaluating my present circumstances about keeping a good Lent while removing unrealistic expectations.

Speaking only for myself, those unrealistic expectations, they get me every time. I frequently suffer from being too hard on myself and not cutting myself a break when I need it most. Over the years, I have made this mistake over and over again: instead of doing what the Holy Spirit seems to be prompting me to do—usually fewer and simpler things with greater verve—I get competitive. I redouble my efforts by striving even harder in teeth-gritting fashion, as I dash headlong into trying to recover what's left of Lent by trying to be extra-extra prayerful or sacrificial, etc., etc. . . . as if I was a lithe runner out to win the anchor lap of a relay race. Well, forget that. That's the lure of my imagination.

Spiritual discipline is just that. It is never found within fits and starts. Progress is always well-timed and even-paced, even if the forward motion is one hard-won inch at a time.

I'm giving myself permission to recalculate my course for Lent, though I'm still far from the end.

What I started to "do" for Lent was not a good fit for the Lent the Lord had actually laid out for me. And so I'm forced to reconcile my real life with my expectations. And dealing honestly with my lame Lent as it is, rather than what I imagined it to be, is so much the wiser for making true spiritual progress.

It never occurred to me, until this week, that God might have something totally different for me to pray, fast, and sacrifice about this Lent. While I was so busy telling God what I was going to do for him and for others, he's been trying to show me something else! So, my intentions must be scaled back to realistically work with this God-delivered Lent.

God's plan all along was that I embrace wholeheartedly three very big tasks during this holy season. Each one is an amazing opportunity for my good growth if I let it be so. What's more, I think God wants and needs me to do these things, and keep a smile on my face as I do them, rather than getting discouraged that I'm failing doing the "extra" x, y, or z's from my original Lenten plan.

These three projects require all of my spiritual and physical energies. They are taking every ounce of my patience and creative vigor. And they are getting it. Unfortunately, I have been slow to "get it."

God is more interested in my being a cheerful giver in this tasks rather than a grumpy one, pining for some green grass on another hill. No, if the Lord really is my Shepherd this Lent, it's time I follow his intentional leading me to this verdant pasture over here, and not to that one over there, paved over with my own good intentions.

Did you ever hear what St. Thérèse of Lisieux recommends?

I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.

C'mon now, a pin? I was thinking a little bigger than that—remember those unrealistic Lenten expectations I was talking about?

Ouch. It gives me pause.

I wonder, could I really pick up a pin and do it in a loving way? Or, might I really just pick up the tasks before me this Lent and do them in a more charitable way?

St. Thérèse has more to say to me it seems.

Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.

The saints always get it right.

So, this aging and childish and stubborn woman must ask herself: Has Lent been more about my own perfectionism, rather than on striving to do the will of the Perfect One who knows me so well? Would I rather change the world around me, than consider changing me?

Have I been faithful to what God has already trusted me to do in this season? Apparently I have missed a few things.

Up to now I had placed my focus on what I thought I should do, rather than what the Lord had already asked of me. I'm no expert on keeping "a good Lent." I'm just a grateful Catholic lamely inching forward with every little bit of grace that I can find.

And so I am picking up the pins of my Lent.

3/24/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Catholic
  • A Word in Season
  • Lent
  • Christianity
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Pat Gohn
    About Pat Gohn
    Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press.