Maybe the problem is that I have always enjoyed Lent just a little too much. I’ve actually looked forward to it with excitement, thought of it as a challenge, taken on some serious disciplines and stuck to them.
But it was last year at this time that I realized that Lent wasn’t meant to be an endurance test, that unless I offered up my sacrifices in prayer, they weren’t helping me grow in holiness.
It was a lesson learned the hard way, as the Lent I wanted fell prey to the Lent God sent me.
This year, as Lent draws to a close, I realize that this year my sacrifice has been to “give up” many of the disciplines I had chosen for this Lent. I didn’t give up on them because they were too hard, or because I didn’t want to do them, but rather because I was needed elsewhere. There was literally no time for reading religious books, watching videos, or prayer journaling. By the end there was no more time for the walking and exercise programs I’d faithfully followed, and even my food restrictions had to be broken.
I didn’t balk at keeping my Lenten promises. They weren’t too hard. In fact, I longed with all my heart to keep them. But as St. Frances of Rome famously said, “It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.”
No matter how much I might ache to spend hours in prayer, reading, writing, and devotion, my vocation as wife and mother has to take precedence. My word of the year is Mother, and my saint of the year is the Blessed Mother, who is celebrated for her prompt obedience to the radical change of plans God asked of her. Clearly, I am being called this year to sacrifice my own ideas about Lenten discipline and holiness and to rather take up the small crosses that God has placed in my path.
So instead of reading and journaling and reflecting, I found myself very active this Lent as I helped prepare for my oldest son’s wedding and reception that took place last weekend, assisted my youngest son with his schoolwork, spent long hours working on cases in my capacity as legal assistant to my husband, made travel arrangements for out of town guests, and performed myriad other mundane tasks that kept me busy from morning until late at night. Instead of exercising and walking last week I found myself running hither and yon taking care of last minute details, from finding clothes for everyone to wear to picking up forgotten items the night before the ceremony. Instead of strictly avoiding sweets and other carbs I found myself making (and of course eating) ridiculously large pans of baked ziti and scarfing down wedding cake.
But building on what I learned last year, I have offered up these sacrifices in prayer. Perhaps next year will be that holy and reflective Lent I keep hoping for, but for now I will continue to strive for holiness in the everyday.