The girls (mostly Madeline, my five-year-old) came up with their very own Lenten plan, and it’s been going well. We’ve talked about how the goal of Lent is to become more like Jesus. Then I asked her how she thought she might be able to do that. She shared her ideas, and I wrote them down. She then chose some colorful paper for the backdrop. She selected a floral motif because “it will soon be spring” and “there are purple flowers, and purple is for preparation.”
She drew a crucifix and a heart, and I think that about says it all.
We hung her Lenten plan in a prominent place in the kitchen. Every time I see her rendering of Jesus on the cross and the crayon heart below it, I’m reminded to not complicate my Lent. This time of year isn’t about some overly ambitious list of spiritual practices or sacrifices. There’s a difference between fasting and just not eating (in my eating disorder days, Lent was a good cover up for me to diet – a divine weight loss program, if you will, before the looming swimsuit season). There’s a difference between donating to a charity and giving beyond what hurts. My daughter’s scribbled heart reminded me that a fruitful Lent cuts below the surface and finds the heart. I have to ask myself: Is my heart still hard in certain areas of my life, or is it thawing out with the spring with the giving and the penance of the season?
Nail your heart to the cross. Don’t be afraid to make it tender by suffering. Don’t be afraid of a dying to self or of giving all you have to Jesus. That’s what these 40 days are really about – looking to Him and not your own circumstances or personal power to get you through the day. It’s about giving up small pieces of you and your wants, and letting Him fill the holes so that you can become more like Him.
It’s about embracing your crosses in life – whether they’re the slivers of minor but constant struggles or heavy loads that feel like they’re on the verge of crushing you – and carrying them with grace. It’s also about recognizing the crosses others carry and not judging them for complaining or for stumbling. Instead, reach out to your fellow fallen brothers and sister. Offer to help lighten their load or at least make an effort to encourage them with something as simple as a warm smile or a “just because” note dropped in the mail.
It’s about seeing the face of Jesus in everyone you meet.
It’s about forgoing the Internet, the television, or some other time destroyer and being a better steward of the hours you’ve been blessed with. It’s about squeezing in extra cuddles with the kids, preparing a special meal for your spouse, or calling a friend just to say hi (and then listening more than talking – so, so, so hard for me!). It’s about filling up your faith reserves, so you’ll always have provisions for when life gets rough and you start to question God, His will for you, His love for you, and His very existence.
It’s about falling in love with God all over again (or for the first time). It’s about reaching into your spiritual toolbox and finding the time, discipline and most importantly, the love to set aside an hour to pray a rosary or to hold a crucifix in your hand and to just say thank you. Thank you for giving me new life. Thank you for giving me hope. Thank you for showing me that the path to true happiness is loving others more than I love myself.
I have a long way to go and I’ve already tripped more than once, but I’ve begun. Sometimes that’s all God asks of us is to put one foot in front of the other – or one hand folded into the other in prayer – and to begin.