I love Lent. I do. I am quite a novice Lenter, as this is only my third year observing the season, but I love how, so far, the 40 day period always seems to bear much, and different, fruit each year.
The first year I observed Lent was when I was going through RCIA and looking forward to receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion at the Easter Vigil. That year I was pretty overwhelmed. There was just so much to know and learn. So much to try to teach to my kids. I was reading like crazy and soaking up so much. It was a very emotional time for me, and I cried at the drop of a hat (during Mass, when a certain song would come on in my car, as I pulled up to the church on Holy Saturday morning for my RCIA retreat, etc.). I felt like I was on fire with my faith, and it seemed every bit of me was growing and expanding. It was a whirlwind, interspersed with moments of amazing grace and peace like nothing I had every experienced before. I decided Lent was awesome.
Last year was different. I felt less on fire and less emotional. But I was still learning and growing in my faith. I gave up a lot of things – spending money (other than on food and gas), Facebook, reading books that are not spiritually focused, ice cream… I started to have a little bit of an understanding of fasting and self-deprivation. I increased my prayer time and made a point to spend time in adoration. I tried to help my kids understand the importance of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. I struggled along with my kids as they had a hard time with the things they gave up for Lent (Miss in particular had a very hard time with giving up coloring). I decided to journal through Lent, and realized that keeping a daily journal is really not my thing (but I did it for the whole Lenten season anyway!).
My growth felt less intense, but perhaps more focused. I gained a little bit of a better understanding of the purpose of Lent. I loved seeing my kids’ growing appreciation as well, in their increased understanding of Jesus’s Passion, and the joy of the Resurrection. Last year’s Lent set the stage for some changes that we made as a family and have kept throughout the year, such as more frequent Confession and not eating meat on Fridays all year.
This year feels different still. I decided not to give up so many different things, but to select one main thing to do from each of the three areas of focus for Lent, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
My fasting has consisted of giving up sweets, which has been even harder than I thought it would be. I mean, I like sweets, so I knew it would be a little hard, but I’m almost embarrassed by how hard it has been at some points. It’s amazing how many little opportunities there are for indulging in a treat, like going to visit family and having tons of homemade goodies on hand, giving up dessert at our parish’s fish fry each week, and even driving home and not stopping at the handy gas station where we often grab ice cream along the way. Being pregnant has made this even harder, Im sure.
BUT, this little sacrifice has borne great fruit. One thing I have gained this Lent is a greater ability to offer it up each time I resist the temptation to stuff my face with something sugary and delicious. “Offering it up” is a concept that is fairly new to me (as a new Catholic), and I have struggled with implementing it into the small moments of every day life. It just doesn’t usually occur to me. This Lent, I’m finally starting to get the hang of it, though. When I’m at a baby shower and the gorgeous little cupcakes seem to be just calling my name? Offer it up. When I’m walking down the aisle at the grocery store and feel a longing to stop and squirt a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup straight into my mouth from that end-cap display? Offer it up! When I remember that I can’t escape for a moment during our homeschool day to my pantry to shove a handful of chocolate chips in my mouth? Yeah. Offer. It. Up.
I am so happily surprised with how freeing it is to do this. It’s an immediate smack down on temptation, and it serves the even better purpose of offering my small suffering as a prayer for someone else. Double win. AND, I’m starting to remember to do this more in other situations too. Yay Lent!
That in itself has really improved my praying-throughout-the-day experience this Lent, but I also have added in a commitment to a daily rosary and Examen prayer. For the last six months or so I have done a pretty good job of praying the rosary almost every day anyway, but I often squeeze it it when I’m doing something else, typically driving somewhere. This is fine, but I find it harder to really focus on the meditations of the rosary when I’m driving. So during this Lent, I have made a point to try to set aside quiet time every day to do nothing but pray the rosary. Usually this happens first thing in the morning, and I’ve found it to be a wonderful way to start my day. And a peaceful end my days this Lent has been the Examen, which also helps keep me focused on noticing God throughout my day.
We have also started doing a family rosary during this Lenten season. We haven’t done it every week, but it seems to be shaping up to be a new family tradition on Sundays, and I have been loving it. Last night we prayed a family rosary and then had game night. The perfect way to wrap up a Sunday.
For almsgiving, this year I decided to put less focus on financial giving and donating of “stuff” (like to St. Vincent’s, for example), and more on giving of myself. In particular, I am working on being more giving to my family, my kids especially. I’m trying to be more generous with my time and attention. Saying “yes” more often, making a point to spend more one on one time with them, playing with them more, and so forth. As a homeschooling mom, I spend tons of time with my kids, but I don’t spend it doing things that they want to do nearly as often as I should, so I am really trying to do better about this for these forty days (and hopefully beyond), as well as just being less grouchy and making a point to give them my best in other ways. I’m experiencing so much peace through these efforts. And we’re still taking plenty of stuff to St. Vincent’s, too.
So, again, this year Lent is different, but still wonderfully fruitful. I feel like I’m a little more mindful of my Lenten commitments throughout each day, and being mindful of these helps keep me focused on Jesus more, which of course, is the whole point of all of it. I’m looking forward to Holy Week and the culmination of the season, with Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, and of course, Easter!
I hope Lent has been fruitful for you, too.