“How’s your Lent going?” This seems like the Catholic Conversation Starter in the weeks before Easter. When we’re on the receiving end, we may frantically rack our brain and spiritual life (or non-existent spiritual life) as we try to quickly craft an answer to this question before we can fire back a “So how’s your Lent going?”
Examining our Lenten journey can be beneficial. I personally enjoy this exercise. I figure out what works, what isn’t working, and those things that I really want to do, but that I’ve mostly forgotten about. I enthusiastically revise my “Lenten plan” as needed and launch headlong into the final days before the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. As I go down the list of what I’ve been doing for Lent, I often pay attention to the effects that these practices are having on my life. After all, I don’t want to make my Lenten sacrifice “everyone else’s” by doing things that make me cranky!
However, while this process can be good, it can grow into a stumbling block for me. I begin to see my “Lenten plan” primarily in terms of what it’s doing for me. I become deeply focused on the visible fruits and positive effects that I can notice and quantify. My “Lenten plan” becomes one big checklist for self-improvement instead of holiness. Rather than directing my gaze to God — and what God wants — I make Lent all about me. In fact, there have been several times when I have chosen Lenten practices simply because they were quirky, exciting, or something that I thought would be cool. There’s nothing inherently wrong with creating a quirky Lenten penance, but there is a problem when the penances and prayers I say revolve around myself and what I want.
I love seeing results. Observing visible progress–whether I’m going through a spiritual crisis or personal counseling — is very motivating for me. But, I’m discovering that this Lent, I need to remind myself that it’s not about what I can see. Lenten practices are not about what I can quantify; they are about drawing close to our suffering Savior and becoming more like him. I may not witness benefits from saying certain prayers or offering sacrifices, but these prayers and sacrifices are still worth doing. My pursuit of holiness should not be about how many conversions I witness or how often I feel pious.
As I meander through this season, I find myself thinking about the quote from St. Josemaría Escrivá that adorned my bedroom wall when I was a teenager: “The apostle has no aim other than letting God work, making himself available.”
I don’t need to focus on how many fruits are (or are not) becoming visible to my eyes. I don’t need to put “make this Lent personally meaningful” as my top priority. Instead, I need to remember St. Josemaría’s advice. I need to make myself available to God, and not worry about the results. God’s got it all taken care of.
Copyright 2019 AnneMarie Miller