I had the best of intentions. I really did. Despite the stress from recent major life changes (getting married, moving three times, having a baby, leaving a job, starting a business and buying a house, all within 18 months), I set myself up for a Lent of awesome fasting, prayer, and spiritual reconnection with my main love, Jesus. I was giving up sugar in all forms, and planned to attend a 6-week prayer study in addition to weekly adoration. Ah yes, bring on the holy. I could just imagine my guardian angel bragging about my saintliness to all the other angels around the divine water cooler.
And then life happened.
My daughter was sick for most of the 40 days of Lent, resulting in one ambulance ride, two ER visits, at least 4 doctor visits, countless nebulizer treatments, sleepless nights and early mornings. Since food tends to be my drug of choice, I found myself eating chocolate and sweets just to put one foot in front of the other (not healthy coping, I understand. I’m working on it.). My already paralytic prayer life took another hit and would have vanished completely if it weren’t for Relevant Radio.
So, yeah, my Lenten resolutions went down the drain, and with it, my positivity and motivation.
Instead of focusing on my gratitude for my daughter’s health (she’s better now, praise God) or how thankful I am for my new practice and loving husband, I spent most of my time having these kinds of thoughts:
“Ugh, I’m so fat and I’ll never get back into a healthy routine.”
“Ugh, I haven’t had a vacation in forever and I won’t get one ever again.”
“Ugh, allergies are the worst and why do I always have them?!”
“I can’t keep up with all of this laundry! I’m a terrible mother.”
“I can’t keep up with meal planning and cooking only whole foods! I’m a terrible mother.”
“I don’t have the energy to play developmentally appropriate games with my daughter every second she’s awake. I’m a terrible mother.”
“I’m not praying a rosary every day in addition to weekly adoration in addition to serving the poor in addition to praying back-to-back novenas. I’m a terrible Catholic.”
Notice a trend? The “I can’t”, “I’m terrible”, “always/never”, black and white, catastrophosizing thinking are warning signs that healthy thinking has jumped ship and depressive thinking has taken the wheel. (I’ll talk about depressive thinking and cognitive behavioral therapy in my next post.)
It was all very “woe is me” Job type stuff, except Job actually had something to complain about. This is how I usually cope with hard times – turning back into the emo curmudgeon I was all through high school and college. My thoughts become depressed, negative, and turned inward.
I was mad at myself that I didn’t stick to my plans. I was supposed to joining Jesus in the desert through fasting and prayer! But instead, all of this stress happened and I did the opposite. I failed at Lent!
But wait a second…
Isn’t Lent about being in the desert and enduring suffering?
Bishop Robert Barron said recently in his Lenten reflection:
What does the desert symbolize? A number of things: confrontation with one’s own sin, seeing one’s dark side; a deep realization of one’s dependency upon God; an ordering of the priorities of one’s life; a simplification, a getting back to basics. It means any and all of these things.
And this is precisely what I experienced this Lent: being stripped of my ego through suffering, and realizing that I can’t be perfect. I can’t protect my daughter from everything. I can’t live out my vocation all on my own. I am imperfect. I am dependent. I do too much. I expect too much of myself. I try to do it all on my own without asking for help.
God in His infinite wisdom, brought me through this Lenten journey in the way that I needed it the most. He broke me down and is waiting for me to run, not walk, to the cross.
Bishop Barron goes on to describe how this breaking down is often necessary to prepare us for our mission, to allow us to let go of our own pride and selfish tendencies, and rely on God to give us what we need.
But the bottom line is that all of them had to wait through a painful time, living a stripped down life, before they were ready for mission. They were compelled to wait, during a time and in a place where very little life seems to be on offer.
We will be tempted for an easier way out, that’s for sure. We will have that voice that tells us to drink and eat in excess, to waste money on things we don’t need, to engage in behavior for the cheap thrill because “we deserve it”. You’ve worked so hard, you’re suffering so much, don’t you deserve to take part in these empty, earthly pleasures?
Shut it, Satan. Or rather, “get thee behind me”, to put it Biblically.
It’s so easy to fall into the lie. And once we do, we usually come out of it full of self-loathing, leaving us prone to fall into the same trap again.
But we were made for greater things. It is only through God and his mercy that we are able to achieve that to which He has called us. That calling is what will bring us true joy and love.
It will be hard. We will be tempted. We will fail. But as we go into Holy Week, we are reminded that God’s love is so great that He will pick us up and carry us through that desert, over and over again. As long as it takes to get us to our eternal home. We just have to die to ourselves enough to accept his help.
Thank God we celebrate the Passion every year. It’s like God knows what we need… Weird.
Happy Holy Week, my friends.
Hallelujah, I’m caving in
Hallelujah, I’m in love again
Hallelujah, I’m a wretched man
Hallelujah, every breath is a second chance
– Switchfoot “Always”