Lent is upon us. A cursory social media scroll reveals the imminence of this penitential season, even as the shamrocks and easter eggs lining my supermarket shelves insist otherwise. “Nothing to see here, grab an armful of those 70% off valentines and gear up for the next holiday buying cycle.” (this is not a commentary on those wise parents who stock up ahead of time, or even a year in advance. You are smart people. This is merely a cynical eye roll at the frenetic urgings that YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT THIS NEXT ESSENTIAL THING RIGHT NOW c/o the mass retailers of the world. Get behind me, easter bunny. Your day will come.)
Anyway, Lent. I have my ideas, and I’ve heard my people’s ideas via an informal roundtable discussion at the dinner table last weekend, during which certain members were not fully clothed and other members were hysterical. I will leave the specifics to the imagination.
I decided to spring for a princely portion of humility by querying the children as to what mommy’s good practice taken up (with the intent of continuing on beyond Lent) ought to be, and imagine my delight when 3 out of 4 (the dissenter being nonverbal-ish) unanimously ratified the motion that I “stop yelling all the time” with mere moments of deliberation. Would that the Supreme Court could achieve such concise unity.
I read something great last week about how as parents, we are our children’s spiritual directors, and so I figured it would be a good practice to encourage my directees to make some recommendations of their own for me, for transparency’s sake. I was not wrong.
Imagine my surprise, though, when my much-holier-than-me husband (not even a slight hint of sarcasm there, as anyone who knows Dave irl can attest to) remarked during our powwow that he wasn’t adding anything for Lent, because his – our – present circumstances are plenty penitential as is. And better to lean into that suffering and bear it well than to pile on top of it.
My choleric list making side was indignant, because what is Lent for – I mean, aside from the Church’s proscribed prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – if not embarking on ambitious purgatorial self improvement strategies?
I’m being only a little facetious. My understanding of Lent has graduated ever so slightly from liturgically-observant weight loss program so something, most years, a little more focused on Him and a little less focused on what’s in it for me.
But only just.
As I sat with Dave’s declaration rolling around in my brain later that evening, I realized how much wisdom and holiness it contained. There is some real merit to the idea of leaning into the sufferings already present in your life, whether it be a difficult season – and maybe a long one – in your marriage, a sick child, a defiant toddler, a sleepless newborn, a move, an illness, a loss, a frustrating “no” when yes was so desperately sought after… And maybe in leaning into that suffering of the life that God has actually given you, not the life you’re praying and longing for, but the life you’re living in this moment, there would be abundant grace not only to bear it, but to bear it with the potential for great fruitfulness.
I can definitely make time for more spiritual reading and less social media scrolling during these next 40 days. And I can stop yelling at my kids. And that one? That is a worthy and appropriate resolution because, yeah, I have 4 kids ages 6 and under. Very few people sleep all the hours all the nights, and diapers and pull-ups still abound. There are messes and chaos and endless cries for needs that I routinely fail to meet with charity, without grumbling, without resenting and seething and mentally counting down the hours till bedtime. And maybe in leaning into those long, hard afternoons, I can offer the Lord a more pleasing sacrifice than forgoing chocolate or coffee or the occasional nightcap.
So I guess this is the least inspiring and least proscriptive Lent-post ever. Because we are in a hard season – not the hardest, but one that stretches and pulls and wearies – and I know that a dozen tiny fiats to another load of laundry, another meal prepared, another moving box packed, another bag of trash to carry out, another hour spent reading bedtime stories and rubbing backs when I want to be watching an episode of something or reading my own book – I know that those are the gold nuggets in the mine of motherhood where I currently labor.
So that’s my Lenten plan. Stop complaining about everything, even interiorly. Especially interiorly?
Because they aren’t going to sleep reliably. Somebody is always sick – this week, it’s me. There will always be an unexpected bill, an unforeseen scheduling conflict, a frustrating door slamming shut, a toy room wrecked and a minivan wrecked-er. And God knows that. Gosh, it’s almost like He custom tailored it just for me. So Lord, here’s to a Lent of Your design and not my own.
That being said, I do have a couple external aids in place, should the REM cycles align and allow me some free time in the evenings or early mornings.
I had the chance to review an advance copy of this book by Heidi Hess Saxton on the spirituality of Mother Teresa, and I really, really love it. I normally don’t prefer books of the “day-by-day” variety, but maybe because Mama T is so rich in profound simplicity, these little readings stand on their own, and I find myself returning to them throughout the day, and skipping defiantly ahead to the next day. I am hoping to go back and read it day by day during Lent, as it was designed, probably first thing in the morning, maybe even before coffee because that seems like a super MC move.
I also preordered the gorgeous Blessed Is She Lenten journal “Put on Love” and am dying to get into it, and have in fact given myself absolution from writing in my normal journal at all during Lent to try to drive my own mental traffic there. (I pretty much have to be exclusive with one journal at a time, which is why prayer journals usually fail me, but this one is so beautiful and the layout is so good that I think I can do it.)
What are your plans for Lent this year?
What are the Lord’s plans for your Lent, this year?
If they’re already synched up, then you’re golden. If this post threw you for a loop like Dave’s pronouncement did for me the other night, well, then you’ve got a solid day or so to better align the two. Good luck.