Well, we’re at that time of year. Some of you are singing and dancing in a way that reminds other folks of December.
I’m not one of those people. I’m one of the people who used to say things like “I love Lent,” but I’ve repented of it.
But maybe I’m learning to accept what Lent is, at least for me.
I consider myself a Lent dropout, but that’s not entirely accurate, because I keep re-enrolling. In that way, I’m just like a lot of other people. 😉
I start off strong and motivated and full of ideas and plans and ways that this will be the Best! Lent! Ever! I have Plans and a Mission and a List. Watch out, because I am going to crush it.
And then … life. Births, sicknesses, emergencies, triumphs, mundane things that shouldn’t derail me but do.
I find myself, either two weeks in or four weeks in, looking back at what I started with and groaning. I feel discouraged and hopeless and I wonder why I bother.
The truth is, Lent can — and does — help me live my vocation as a wife and mom more fully and deeply. However much I may feel like I fail Lent, each failure brings me a step closer to success. It’s a lesson in humility, for sure, but it’s also a lesson in perseverance.
During Lent, I can learn lessons to help me become the woman that God intends me to be, but only — ONLY — if I keep it real.
In my ongoing journey through Lent, I’ve found that there is one person, more than any other, who helps me.
The image of Mary in all the artwork and icons and on the pedestals of churches around the world isn’t necessarily helpful when I’m looking for a mentor. Her hair, after all, is flawless. She looks so serene. There’s not a mess anywhere near her, and I just can’t relate. This is not a woman I know. In many ways, she’s not a woman I want to know: I am intimidated by what I see.
What I’m forgetting, looking at these images of The Perfect Mary, is that these are inspired and idealistic. They’re not so different from the author photo on the cover of my books. Do I look like that author photo? Well, yes, when I’m posing for a picture. The rest of the time, not so much.
Mary does not represent impossible perfection; she is the embodiment of grace in action. She had to feed her family, deal with single parenthood, juggle the demands of life in first century Palestine, stay out of the limelight, and face the torture of grief of her Son and his disciples.
Who better to turn to, then, this Lent?
My Lenten failures may just be a reflection of my inability to be open to God’s will. Maybe Lent has been teaching me, for nearly two decades, what “Yes” could — and should — look like.
And maybe God is teaching me that what I consider a failure is not. Has it made me more humble? Am I more giving? Have I grown closer to him?
This year, I’ve been preparing for Lent a bit differently, in a way that involves my family. I’m also not looking for success in quite the way I have in the past: Instead of checking off a list of things done, I’m trying to remain open.
Where does God want me? How can I serve him?
What are the things that will help me grow (despite the fact that they will also involve me splatting on my face)?
Who is my neighbor? And how am I praying for them?
From Mary, I see the importance of the small things. I don’t have to trumpet my successes or my failures; I just have to accept them and, with God’s grace, use them to grow. I’m resisting the (very strong) urge to make a list and check it twice.
Mary also points me back to my vocations: wife and mother. She reminds me of the need for rest, of the healing that silence brings.
Lent can be an opportunity for me to stretch without identifying the pain involved as failure. I’m going to start with the three pillars — prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — and I’m going to lean in.
Will I be modifying halfway through? Maybe. Is that so bad? No. It shows a level of flexibility that might also indicate an increase in maturity.
When Easter comes, I’ll throw my hands in the air, inhale the sweet smell of flowers and spring and rejoicing, and pray that I have done well.
And, when I realize how I’ve failed, I’ll also remind myself that there’s always next year. 😉
Copyright 2019 Sarah Reinhard