Lenten practices can be resoundingly hard to narrow down at times. Often when we are preparing for Lent, our minds drift to prayer and fasting and charity (almsgiving). My husband favors this understanding:
Prayer – working on our relationship with God
Fasting – working on our relationship of ourselves
Charity – working on our relationship with others
I’ve noticed many women I’m connected to on social media wondering about self-care, and how indulgent it seems to take time for oneself when there are so many demands, and aren’t we supposed to be constantly giving of ourselves anyway? Self-care is an essential part of ‘charity’ — if we don’t take care of ourselves, we will have nothing to give to others except some of the worst of ourselves. I speak from experience — when I do not take the time I need to take care of myself, then I can turn into some type of momster. I never like the person I am when I act that way, and I’m slowly coming to see it has a lot to do with how I prepare myself so that I can give of myself better to others.
What is Penance?
Perhaps you’re wondering where any documents state ‘self-care’ as a form of penance. We need to perhaps revise our understanding of what penance is meant to do. Pope Paul VI in his apostolic constitution Paenitemini, tells us, “Penance therefore … is a religious, personal act which has as its aim love and surrender to God.” Within this framework, we can see self-care is for the purpose of helping us to love and surrender to God more fully. In fact, it’s essential for us to take care that we are nourished (especially spiritually) so that we can continue at all.
I thought I’d set forth a challenge for this Lent focusing on self-care, because believe it or not, you’re worth it, you deserve it, and Jesus didn’t die for you to be depleted and not be able to spread the Good News.
There are numerous examples of Jesus taking off from his disciples, recorded as going off to pray. I’ve always liked to picture that sometimes it’s also to get away from people who are nagging, who are perpetually clinging, and who are causing strife (this is in no way biblical, except that he would go away). He always comes back, but he does leave for a time, and the disciples are also sometimes confused as to where he has gone. And in our lives, we need this time away too. Though I’m not advocating that we run off without telling anyone. Well, not necessarily.
7 Ideas for a Lenten Challenge
1. Whenever you take up your phone for social media, force yourself instead to first pray one of the liturgy of hours (depending on your time of day). There are several apps you can download to help pray. We all know that too much time on social media isn’t healthy for us, and training ourselves to pray first is a form of self-care. (The daytime prayers — mid-morning, midday, and mid-afternoon are particularly short and sweet.)
2. Create a static dinner (or lunch) menu for six weeks. I have done this several times and the biggest benefit is that I do not have to stress about what to eat or how much things will cost, and my time in the grocery store is spent much more efficiently. It saves the mental energy and is a form of penance by the sixth week (believe you me on this one), but also provides relief from the neverending task of meal planning.
3. Go for a Rosary walk. Pack up the kids into a stroller or get them on a bike or sled (depending on your climate), and go for a walk while praying the Rosary. If your kids are old enough to pray along, invite them to join, but it takes about 20 minutes, which is usually the duration my kids enjoy being in a stroller for (the stroller-bound, that is). In my climate, it’s never guaranteed to be above freezing this year, but the malls are open early for those who wish to walk indoors.
4. Make a date night with your husband (or wife, if you’re a husband) and attend adoration, Benediction, or a Mass. If this isn’t already a practice for you, this is a great way to connect with your spouse and enrich your spiritual life as a couple.
5. Ask for a couple of hours and pursue an interest or hobby of yours. For some this is not possible, but many of us downplay this need to take time and pursue the things we love to do. Maybe you’ve put off knitting for a few years but wouldn’t mind giving it a go again. Or perhaps you’ve been hoping to go see that museum you just heard about, or that play that someone mentioned, or go to that afternoon woodworking workshop. Engaging our interests is a way of honoring the unique way God made us — and if it brings us joy, then it is a good way of giving repose to our souls and we find re-creation.
6. Participate in Friendship Friday, shared with us by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet in the Friendship Project book. This is where you take part of your day on Friday to especially connect with a friend with whom you desire to grow in relationship or to reconnect. It forces us to connect with another real live person, something I think we can lack when we’re in the midst of demands for family, work, and other obligations. It is important for us to have friends. If we’re in a time where friendship is hard to come by, then this is a challenge for us — but it is one that is worth it for your soul in the end. God has not made us to be lonely, and desires us to find friendships that are supportive and loving.
7. Make yourself a pot of hot tea, curl up on the couch, and commit to reading a spiritual classic or a novel from a Catholic author. I’ve resolved this year to read more, and since deciding this I’ve found myself tuning out social media in favor of reading and being transported into different lives and stories. You can find a list of Catholic books and genres through CatholicReads.com. You can also sign up for Daily Gospel Reflection emails here on CatholicMom.com in the newsletter signup in the right navigation bar for a daily dose of spiritual reading.
The US Bishops have a great pastoral statement about Fasting and Penance throughout the liturgical year; it is a great resource for understanding how they want the faithful to enter into this season of Lent.
What types of self-care can we take up this Lent in order to love and surrender to God more fully?
Copyright 2018 Jane Korvemaker