I’ve had a lot of prayers rifling through my head lately. Choosing the right presidential candidate in the Georgia Primary. (This is the first election I’ve ever encountered where I didn’t decide whom to vote for until I was waiting in line at the polls! I was actually still praying for wisdom right before I inserted the voting card into the machine.) Patience with my sleepless preschooler. (Will these prayers for increased tolerance for irrational behavior ever end?) An end to abortion. An end to my oppressive perfectionism. Oh, and prudence for how I can best prepare myself for this year’s Lenten journey. This is a biggie and honestly, even though my forehead is marked with ashes, I’m still not exactly sure how I can make the most of Lent this year. But I do have some thoughts…. (Big surprise, right? Kate, the notoriously long-winded blogger has some thoughts?!!? Do pray tell!)
Every year I give up sweets, among other things. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember and it is a undoubtedly sacrifice given my intense sweet tooth. But does it bring me nearer to holiness? Not so much. See, I have an ulterior motive behind my cutting back on all things saccharine. We’re approaching swimsuit season and I honestly think this form of self-denial is more about bringing me closer to a better bod than to Christ. I know. This is horribly superficial. I’m working on it, but I’ve struggled with my body image for as long as I can remember. Really. Just a smidgen of “proof”: When I was still in elementary school, my mom took me to the doctor and they needed to take blood. They couldn’t find my veins – people still have trouble with the suckers – and I convinced myself it was because I was fat. In my warped mind, there was too much of me for them to pinpoint those tiny veins beneath my skin.
For me, fasting is something I’m good at – not because I’m some holy, penitential saint in the making– but because I used to regularly self-impose days, sometimes weeks, of eating nothing more than salad sans the dressing when I was at the height of my eating disorder. So, I can’t simply forgo treats, something I deplorably might be doing this time of year anyway, and expect to be on my way to greater holiness. No, I must fast on other things – like worry, like anger, like impatience, like raising my voice to my preschooler, like craving control in my life when clearly I should let God take over and yes, like using fasting as an attempt to reach a certain number on the scale. I’m not saying I’m not going to fast today or on Good Friday or abstain from meat on Fridays. What I am saying is that this and sacrificing sweets cannot be all I do during Lent.
Similarly, I must do more than simply practice almsgiving. I must give of my personal goods out of love, not obligation or kudos (Didn’t Jesus remind me of this in today’s Gospel? “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.”). I also must give until it hurts, at least a little. Honestly, it’s easy to tell myself: “We don’t have to give much right now when money is tight and Dave’s in residency. When he’s practicing, we’ll be able to give so much and to help so many people.” But won’t it mean more to give when it’s tough, when the wallet is thin, when it hurts, when it’s scary? (Besides, if good, old Hillary gets in and pushes that $110 billion a year mandatory universal health care plan she’s touting, even practicing docs might not make much more than a resident’s salary. There’s always New Zealand. I think a lot of good physicians might be flocking there if their competent hands become entrapped in the bureaucratic red tape that goes hand in hand with a more socialized health care system.. Sorry. I just couldn’t help myself. I don’t intend to cry poor as a resident’s wife. Nor do I want to deeply delve into politics right here, right now, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately.)
Finally, there’s the discipline of prayer that should be heightened during Lent. Again, I must pray for the right reasons, not only for my needs or even in thanksgiving of my infinite blessings, but because I want to develop a more intimate relationship with Christ. I must do more than rattle off a decade of the Rosary or offer a quick morning prayer. This Lent, I want to have regular conversations with God. I want to talk to him and then I want to listen. I want to empty my mind of grocery lists, ideas for future blogs or freelance articles, or enduring guilt for the time I blew it as a mom, and I want to just listen. I want to hear what he has to say. I want to let him love me even when I feel really, really unlovable.
What is Christ asking me to do this Lent? All these things – to give up more than just “bad” food or things that I’ll resume partaking in as soon as these 40 or so days are up (shouldn’t I instead choose to sacrifice something that will have a positive, long-term effect on my faith life?); to monetarily give a little bit extra out of love; and to have frequent conversations with God (I’d like to add “long” here, but I’m a realist. Lengthy dialogues with anyone are nearly impossible with two little ones around, especially one who boycotts naps and sometimes takes several hours to drift off to the Land of Nod).
As for more concrete Lenten resolutions, I’m keeping these close to my heart with the exception of one I feel compelled to share here. While asking myself, “What’s keeping me from growing closer to Christ?” something immediately popped into my head: Email and blogging. Yikes! I tried to ignore this and think of something else, but it kept coming back to haunt me. This helped me realize I’m too attached to checking my email and to working on my blogs and reading others’ wisdom and anecdotes in the blogosphere. While my intentions for blogging here are good – I am hoping to cultivate my faith and to perhaps help spread the Good News with the guidance of the Holy Spirit– if I always use my limited free time to write or to respond promptly to emails or even to seek out others’ wisdom in the Catholic blogging world when I should be instead seeking the big guy upstairs, then I’m ironically not living the life I advocate. In other words, if my actions do not follow beliefs, then this blog is all for show. Frankly, my time spent emailing, blogging, writing, surfing the net for inspiration, has been a problem lately. Just earlier yesterday I snapped at Madeline because I just had to finish an email I was drafting. It seemed imperative that I get that email out at the time, but it could have waited. My “work” involving these two precious souls is far more important.
Likewise, every night after the kiddos are asleep, I pull out the laptop and say to myself, “I’ll just check one or two of my friends in faith’s blogs. Then I’ll pray.” Hours later my eyes are straining and I’m exhausted and all I can do is think of going to bed and sneaking in a few hours of sleep before…too late…Madeline arrives in our bedroom, wide awake and needing me and that whole promise to pray once again takes the backburner.
I love to write. I love keeping in touch with editors, friends, family, and other moms I’ve “met” in Cyberspace via email and/or blogging. But I love God, my husband, and my children more and they have to come first or all of this pontificating is for naught.
So I’m warning you: I may not respond to my emails as frequently as I usually do (I’ve made a Lenten promise to check my email only once at the end of the day). In addition, depending on how much my kids sleep, I may not blog as much since the time they spend in REM directly correlates to the amount of free time I have. Instead, I’ll be having a pretend tea party with Madeline and a sundry menagerie of stuffed animals, or dancing with Rachel Marie in my arms, or ministering to my husband, asking him, “What’s going on with you today? What do you need my prayers with?” or giving God my undivided attention when I do have some alone time instead of immediately hitting the keyboard.
If I can do all of this, or at least take small steps in the direction of holiness, then this time in the desert will be well spent and Easter as well as the days that follow will be filled with more joy than I can possibly imagine right now.