Lent will be here in one week. Considering I never even got around to jotting down any New Year’s Resolutions this year, it’s a miracle I’ve started to come up with a plan for Lent.
Avoiding a litany of 2010 resolutions was actually a deliberate move on my part. I have a compulsion to make lists and goals and to plan way, way, way ahead, but since adding a third baby to our family what I’ve longed for more than anything is simplicity. So often I find myself buried beneath a drift of canary-yellow post-it notes, iCal plans, to-do lists, and goals. I spend so much time planning my life that I often start to run out of steam when it’s time to just start living it. We have so much on our plate right now with my husband’s looming oral boards, finding a house, selling our townhome, decluttering our life, writing a book, and making the big move. I don’t need to make any goals other than to keep things as simple as they can be given our circumstances and to keep peace in the moment.
Not that I’m using this as an excuse to have a lazy Lent. I’ve just been rethinking how I want to approach these 40 days leading up to Easter. Since I’ve been struggling with finding authentic joy and peace, I’ve been trying to come up with a road map that leads me in the right direction. What I need right now in this busy, busy time of my life is an agenda that is about God and finding happiness in him. When Easter arrives this year, I want to sing “Alleluia” with real joy.
But first things first. As I mentioned last year, Easter loses some of its luster if it’s not preceded by a meaningful Lent. Sometimes we need a season of starkness and deprivation to appreciate the goodness and new life. Humans need a Lenten season just as the Earth needs winter. In fact, the chill of winter allows many plants to be more fruitful throughout the rest of the year.
This isn’t a popular notion in the secular world. In today’s culture, we tend to think of sacrifice as bad or at least unnecessary, and it’s certainly not a pathway to happiness. We soften the edges of everything. Let’s not use the words “sin” or “penance.” Everyone is telling us to do what makes us happy. So we pursue our own interests and worldly things – physical beauty, power, money. We travel the world to “find ourselves.” While we may experience momentary, narcotic-like happy hits in each of these pursuits, so many of us remain unfulfilled as we continue to think contentment is found in serving ourselves and our wills.
But Jesus is very clear on how we can find happiness, and it’s very counter-cultural. He spells it out in Matthew’s Gospel with the Beatitudes. These eight teachings don’t reveal to us what we want, but what we need to achieve inner peace.
The Beatitudes are challenging rules to live by. Lent is supposed to be challenging, too, so I’ve decided to use Jesus’ teachings as the springboard for my Lenten resolutions this year. Since I’m also working on not getting too gung-ho, I’m choosing to focus on just three of the Beatitudes, the lessons I can glean from them, and a resolution that will help me live them more fully.
I’m still tweaking my goals bit, but here’s what my Lenten plan looks like so far:
What society says will make us happy: Money and stuff and more stuff.
What Jesus says: Happy are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Lesson: Trust in God, not money or things, for happiness.
Resolution: I’m a pretty thrifty person (some would say cheap). My husband and I got married when he was a medical student, and I was his sugar mama working as a journalist. Since writing is not a lucrative career unless you’re Stephen King, we didn’t have much discretionary income. When we had our first child, Dave was still in med school, so I started freelancing from home. Once he started residency, I curtailed my work outside of taking care of my family, so we had to continue to pinch pennies. I meal plan. I clip coupons. I don’t shop at fancy boutiques. I don’t shop much at all, really.
However, now that my husband’s medical training is nearly over, I’ve noticed I’m developing a bad habit. I call it the “$50 greeting card at Target.” I’ll go to Target to buy a card or a few select items, but then I’ll impulsively grab a few extra things, and it always seems like I end up spending around $50. I never used to do this, but it’s like I feel I deserve this after nine years of sticking to a tight budget.
As we prepare for our move, my husband and I have been discussing how we can declutter our life. We really want to simplify our life. I’ve always loved Ghandi’s words: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” We don’t want to buy a bigger house and fill it with more stuff. We want to give our children experiences more than things. I always said these leaner years would make me appreciate our blessings later in life that much more. I refuse to raise children who need the biggest and greatest and latest of everything. I will not allow money or commercialism to usurp my parental authority.
To set a good example for my family and to break myself of the “$50 greeting card” habit, I’m starting a shopping fast during Lent. I will only spend money on what is absolutely necessary to take care of my family in order to detach myself from things and to have a “poor spirit.” Then I will share what we save to two of my favorite charities: Food for the Poor and Catholic Relief Services Operation Rice Bowl.
What society says will make us happy: Power and knowledge without wisdom
What Jesus says: Happy are the meek.
Lesson: Stop being such a control freak and know-it-all.
Resolution: I’m opinionated. I have a worldview that I think is right, and I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t agree with me. I interrupt too much (maybe because I want to be in control of the conversation? Or maybe because I fear silence?). This Lent, I’m going to talk less and listen more. I resolve to let others win arguments. When someone says something I don’t agree with, I’m going to keep my mouth shut. Even better, I will swallow my pride and admit, “You have a point.”
When I’m tempted to resort to my KIA ways, I will pause and meditate on this scripture passage: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
In my marriage, I will overlook the small annoyances. I will pick up the dirty scrubs and socks in bathroom instead of nagging my husband about them. I will show my children that it is good to share and take turns, and that sometimes we must lose a battle in order to win the war.
What society says will make us happy: Unabated hedonism. Do what makes you happy.
What Jesus says: Happy are the clean of heart.
Lesson: Keep your hearts clean from sin and get rid of the things that pollute your life.
Resolution: The Internet can be a grace-filled vessel, but it can also be a black hole that sucks my precious time away and leaves me feeling frazzled. I’m going to close comments on my blog this Lent (starting next week) in order to keep my vanity in check and to free up my time. I’m also going to kick off a blogging fast for a few days (I haven’t decided just how long yet; aren’t you proud of me for not planning too far ahead?) starting on Ash Wednesday.
I will fill all the time I save with more cleansing prayer. I want to spend time talking to God, not through a combox or a blog post, but with my voice and my heart. I want to give him my full attention. I also want to be merciful when a child needs me NOW, not in another minute, but NOW.
What is your plan for Lent? Thinking of the Beatitudes as lessons for happiness, which of Jesus’ teachings can you apply to your life and how?
*Stay tuned for my Lenten plan for my kids.