How to observe the Lenten season? That’s the question, and if you are anything like me, dear reader, you still haven’t quite settled on anything.
I’ve been a Catholic for over a decade now, and my observance of this liturgical season has developed and matured. Two years ago I wrote about giving up my love of comfort for Lent — a thousand times harder than giving up chocolate, at least in my experience. Chocolate I did give up in the end. Forgoing my alone time and choosing a parking lot far away in the bitter cold was much harder.
Last year I challenged my deep attachment to food by limiting favorites in addition to daily fasting. I don’t really know how to build on that this year, and so as I have prayed about what the Lord is calling me to become, the answer I get is surprising: more human. More holy, to be sure, but also more human.
What do I mean by that? I look around and see subtle ways in which I — and many of us — are losing that which makes us human. Here are three ways I propose to challenge myself this Lent:
Connect with nature
We are among the first generations to spend most of our lives indoors rather than outside. Could there be something we have lost of our humanness along the way? There is something very human about getting your hands into the soil, standing among trees, or even lying on the grass staring at the largeness of the sky.
Certainly, staring at a mountain gives rise to worship of the One who created that mountain more than looking at a picture on your screensaver of the same mountain. Surely, standing at the edge of a cornfield elicits praise for the One who sends rain and sun more than eating a bowl of cornflakes.
I live in the northern Midwest and haven’t stepped foot outside in months. I think it’s time I challenged myself to go explore the world God made.
In what way can you get outdoors this Lent, especially without earbuds or other distractions from nature? What can you learn about God from studying His creation?
Connect with each other
“Man does not live by screens alone.” (Isn’t that how that verse goes? Oh, that’s right. I got it slightly wrong.)
We humans were made to live in community, as evidenced by the Triune God, who is a community of three Persons, one God. Technology, while it has its benefits, can also isolate us if we succumb to the idea that connecting with one another virtually is “the same” as connecting in person. It’s not. One is receiving and giving information (where someone spent his vacation; what someone ate for dinner), and the other is fellowship found in the presence of another soul.
What limits could you put on your screen time and how could you use that time to build up relationships with real people around you? Who might be lonely that you could invite into the community of your home this Lent? What young mom is on your heart to call up for a play date? Who in your life could use a home-cooked meal?
Connect with God
I listened to a podcast in which the speaker asked what God would see if He peeled open our hearts: is there room for Him or is it too cluttered with distractions? The next day, I also read about St. Ludger, who, being at his prayers, did not immediately answer his summons from Emperor Charlemagne, but instead finished his prayers. When asked by the Emperor what took him so long, he replied that while he had utmost esteem for the emperor, God is infinitely above him, and while we are performing our duty to God, we ought to forget everything else.
Contrast this attitude to my own: I might be in the middle of prayer and will jump to attend to whichever distraction comes my way: the phone buzzing; wondering what to make for dinner; sending a “quick text” to someone.
The older I get, the more I realize that much of what I struggle with — impatience with others’ weaknesses; feelings of being unimportant; — would be solved by meditating more and more on the mysteries of the Gospel. How can I murmur against my brother when I see myself in the weak characters of the Bible? How can I feel unimportant when I consider that God Himself became incarnate to declare His love for me?
What distractions can you eliminate from your prayer time? How can you reflect more on the Gospel this Lent?
Distraction and isolation seem to me to be two of the greatest weapons the enemy uses to distance us from each other and from Our Lord (and in a way, the two are the same thing, aren’t they?). This Lent, maybe it’s time for us, the church militant, to resist those two behemoths of modern times. We can become more human — and more holy.
Copyright 2020 Amanda Woodiel