I would like to talk about Lent just a little bit… Ash Wednesday is coming up, and I got to thinking I’d like to write a little bit about it… And without really any effort to look, I found my answer.
Recently, I read something that made me quite sad. Someone I know in a peripheral sense mentioned about becoming increasingly stressed out about ‘what to give up’ for Lent. Honestly… I reached out to this person and explained, ‘Hey, no, you’re going about this the wrong way!’
Now, understand, Reader, I am in no way perfect. I know, it’s a shock, isn’t it? But I tell you the truth, and this is going to be hard to understand for some: None of us are. Lent, though, shouldn’t be at all a stressful time! Preparing for it, during, or even Easter. It should be, honestly, a time of joy. We are preparing to meet our Beloved Lord in the desert. It’s a time to weed out those stumbling blocks that are causing us harm in our spiritual walks with Him.
Lent is a beautiful gift. It’s a way to give us a chance to realize what we take for granted on the day-to-day. Not just being able to eat meat whenever we want. Not just being able to go to the movies and see the latest installation to the Marvel Universe, or even go to a library and check out a book.
Lent is a means for us to set aside the things we take so freely for granted so we can focus where it’s most important: from Where and Whom those blessings we are blasé about come. It should never be treated as a time to be stressed out on what to give up. Reader, I don’t know from where you’re reading this, if you’re in America, or Europe, Middle East, Asia, I don’t know what your life is like, but I do know that I’ve read the Passion Story often, and I know that our Beloved Lord’s time in the desert wasn’t because He was taking anything for granted, but to show us that we need to get ‘down to the basics’ so we’re free of distractions.
Lent most assuredly isn’t for just ‘I’m going to give up chocolate,’ or ‘I’m not going to drink caffeinated beverages,’ or ‘I’m going to give up staying up late.’
It’s absolutely not meant to be a time to get worked up into a tizzy about in a negative way!
For example: Last year, I was on the cusp of my Adoption into the Church. I had given things a lot of thought and decided I was going to get as much as I could out of Lent. So, I gave up social media. Social media is something I do spend time cruising around – largely out of sheer boredom, let’s be honest - and I could easily be doing something else that’s vastly more productive. Rather than playing around on Facebook, for example, I decided to work on my writing. I decided, too, to read some spiritual materials and try to pick things apart to better understand what and why and how it all worked in terms of not just me as a person, but why, how, what our Beloved Lord was trying to accomplish.
Something else I decided to give up was my resentments. I’m notorious for carrying grudges and not being an overly forgiving person. I’m being real and honest with you: I’ve been through some pretty awful things in my life. I was abused. Savagely. For a long, long time. I’m now in my mid-40s, and I still harbour a lot of anger about it. Not as much as I used to, but giving my pain over to God last Lent, I was able to really see things for what they were: my anger? It’s unprocessed grief. I wasn’t aware of how raw it still was until I arranged things in my life to face those things down, full-on. I tell you, doing this has helped me exponentially in addressing them, individually and as a whole, and it’s helped me to step back and try best to forgive when little infractions are done, which has snowballed where I’m able to work on actively trying to forgive the bigger things.
Now that I’m Catholic, having come into the Church last Easter, I’m learning more and more and more about what it means to embrace my suffering. And I’m able to recognize a little clearer things that I didn’t quite understand before. That’s what Lent’s for, too, is to actively do something productive.
I want to share an experience I had yesterday that really put a lot of things into perspective for me that I probably wouldn’t have noticed before.
I’m a PSR teacher. This is my first year and I teach Kindergarteners and First Graders. Sweet bunch of little people and I love each and every one of them. I love teaching. I love that I can share something I am tremendously passionate about and the fact that when my co-teacher and I ask them, ‘Does this make sense to you?’ and we are able to engage them in conversations about the lessons as we go along. Usually, there’s a LOT of questions – which is totally fine with me! - and sometimes there are a lot of silly statements, as is pretty standard with the territory of teaching someone so small about our Beloved Lord. However … There are some downsides to this, and honestly? If this is the worst of the worst conversation I ever have to have with any of my students from here on out, I’m okay with it, because there are far uglier things that could’ve been brought up, but thanks be to God, they weren’t. And I hope never, ever to have to travel that road with any of them.
Yesterday (at the time of this writing, it’s the start of the seventh week of Ordinary Time, right on the cusp of Lent – as in, Ash Wednesday is just days away at this point), my co-teacher and I had agreed we’d teach the kids about Lent. What it is, why we, as Catholics, have Lent, what it’s for, all of that.
My co-teacher and I gave some ideas of things that they could give up for Lent. One thing that we suggested was taking 10% of their clothes and setting them aside. Lent’s only 40 days long, so by the time Easter gets here in April, it’s likely they won’t miss their items they’re fasting from, so rather than re-adding them to their daily uses, they could maybe donate them to someone who doesn’t have anything.
That… sparked a whole conversation that nearly brought me to tears and I’d been crying off and on throughout the rest of the day yesterday as a result.
One of the little girls in my class told us about an encounter with someone who was homeless. She was out with her father and they were asked by this gentleman if he’d give them some money. She had begged her father to give him some money, but he’d consistently refused. She told me that the man’s hair was messy and his clothes were torn. Understand, this little girl is only six, so she was incredibly confused by this. So, she asked why he looked that way. I told her, ‘Well, sometimes people don’t have money to buy clothes that fit and aren’t torn, and he might not have had a hairbrush.’
This engaged the class in a conversation I was not prepared for, but I reiterate what I said earlier if this is the worst conversation I ever have to have with a small person, I welcome it with a heart of gratitude that it’s not worse.
‘Why are there poor people in the world, Miss Rea?’
Understand, Reader, my class is predominantly children from Africa. My parish has a pretty substantially sized African community and they are some of the most LOVING people I’ve ever met. They love our Lord so much, and they teach their children all about Him. I know a couple of them hail from Nigeria and I’m not sure where my other African children are from, but I know that they’ve likely seen profoundly heartbreaking things back home that have confused them profoundly, and then they come here, to the USA, and they see that we, too, have homeless and poor people.
I just stood there, completely unable to speak for a minute – not easy to do that, render me speechless, but this little girl managed to do precisely that with her question! I simply told her, fighting the urge to break down crying and scoop the girl up and just hug her and love her for her innocence, ‘Well, sometimes people just fall into some bad times. They might have had a good job that their boss didn’t have enough money to pay them anymore and the person got let go. Because of this, they don’t have the money to pay for their home, and it sometimes just happens to be something they can’t help. Sometimes, too, their children don’t have family that can help out with money to keep the children fed and clothed, and it causes a lot of pain for the family. Sometimes, it’s choices they make that they shouldn’t and because of this, they lose everything. Including their home.’
Another little girl looks at me, her eyes were huge and she said to me, ‘Miss Rea, you mean there are kids that don’t have anything, too?!’ At this, I nearly fell apart. I just nodded and said, ‘Yes, sweetie, some children are incredibly poor and don’t have a home to live in, and clothes that fit and toys to play with. They can’t even afford to bring lunch to school or enjoy buying lunch from the cafeteria.’
I had several pairs of eyes just staring at me like I’d told them the most earth-shattering news ever.
These sweet, innocent, small people couldn’t believe their little ears. Now, I know that as an American, we tend to tell our children when we want them to stop arguing about eating their veggies that ‘starving children would be happy to have that!’ I’ve told this not just to children in my care, but I’ve said this to my grown nieces and nephews who are notorious for just eating some or most of their food and letting the rest of it go to waste. I can’t stand that.
Lent is a gift from our Lord to remind us that we take things for granted. That we get too comfortable and take our Beloved Lord for granted, too. I don’t really know much about the things these little people have seen in their home countries, but I’m certain it’s not pretty.
Are you taking for granted that you’ve got cabinets full of food and you know that you’ve got plenty of options but you would rather hit up the local fast food joint for dinner instead? Maybe use the money you’d spend at the fast-food restaurant to go to the store and buy some things and put together a filling dinner and take it to the neighbour you know doesn’t have much and is too ashamed to speak up. You might be an answered prayer they’ve offered up to God, ‘Lord, I don’t know how I’m going to feed my children. I’ve only got a couple crackers and a jar of peanut butter, and maybe a tenner in the bank, but I need money for the bus to get to and from work.’
Are you taking for granted that you’ve got access to transportation to get to and from work and you know your co-worker struggles to find a way there and home, they don’t live too far out of your way and you know they have children? Offer them a ride on shifts you work the same hours. Sure, it’ll add a little more wear-and-tear to your vehicle, but you helping them out not only is likely an answer to their prayer for help because they’re dangerously close to losing their job if they’re late one more time because your boss is tired of their seemingly endless excuse that the bus is late getting to them so they can get to work on time. Maybe they can’t afford to buy a car, and it may be that they can’t afford to chip in for gas, but if it’s not too far away, it won’t kill you to leave a few minutes early to go pick them up and then be a few minutes later getting home, because you’re taking them home, first.
Are you someone who has closets full of clothes that you’ve not worn in some time? Likely you don’t even remember what you have, why not donate the items to someone you know can’t afford to go to the local charity shop to purchase some clothes and their own are starting to become quite obviously worn out.
Are you someone who has enough fluid income that you can pad your savings each payday, to save ‘for a rainy day?’ But your days have been consistently awash with sun and warmth? Take a small percentage out and donate it to a family in need.
Are you out running errands and see a homeless person on the street? Bring them a bottle of water on a hot day or something hot to drink on a cold day, or if you’ve got a spare umbrella in your car, and it’s raining, offer the one you’ve got with you, and just fish out the one you keep stashed in your trunk.
Are you someone who has a large gathering for Shrove Tuesday to celebrate all that God has given you, and you know someone’s lonely and hasn’t had a visitor in some time? Invite them over to join in your reverie. They don’t have a way to get there to visit and a way home after the festivity is done? Offer a ride.
Do you have household items you’ve not used in some time, and they’re taking up precious real estate on your counters, shelves, etc and you know someone doesn’t have these items and they could use them? Donate them.
Are you someone, like me, that has a hard time letting go of past hurts? Make a vested effort to take them to the proverbial desert and meet with our Lord and have a real, open and honest discussion with Him about what’s bothering you and why you’re holding back. Realize, it isn’t like He isn’t already aware. He is, I promise. He wants you to come to Him, bringing all your emotional baggage with you so He can take care of you. He wants to love you. Let Him love you where you’re feeling the most unloved and unlovable.
Are you someone who has some free time and you spend a lot of that time doing mind-numbing things? Use that time to volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen.
My point is, Lent should be a time to sit down and evaluate where you are and cull things that aren’t spiritually healthy so you can make room for our Lord to meet you where you are so He can heal you through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. He loves us all, so fiercely, that He wants us to feel that inside and out. If we’re bogged down, we can’t experience that, because He isn’t going to force His way in where He isn’t welcome. Lent is a way for us to, if you think about it, do some deep Spring cleaning of our souls and our overall lives so He can do what He loves to do: Love us and show us how much we are loved.
Not unlike when you’re opening windows at the start of warmer weather to air out the stale winter air, it’s just a good idea to take stock of what needs to be cleared out in terms of what’s not needed anymore and is clogging up your spiritual path. As a society anymore, we are much too attached to distractions and we don’t take time out of our never-ending busy day to just be. Our Beloved Lord gave us the gift of Lent to do precisely that: Take some time out to re-evaluate our priorities and re-adjust our focus where it belongs, on Him.
It’s my hope, Reader, that you’re able to get the most out of this Lenten season and you’re able to draw close to our Lord this year and may you stay there in His Presence, because He loves you beyond all words!