How is your Lent going, Reader? I hope things are going well, and you’re drawing ever-nearer to our Beloved Lord!
Something that I wanted to address is how we approach Lent. I know that two posts ago, I mentioned some ideas of what to do as penances this year to do, some suggestions. Here’s the thing, I wanted to reach out and discuss a little something about Lent a bit further than I did last week: HOW are you approaching Lent? I don’t just mean, ‘are you praying more?’ or ‘are you fasting more?’ I certainly hope these things are happening, of course, but… No. I want to take some time to share a little something with you that I just learnt about: 2 Samuel 7.1-7:
After the king had taken up residence in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent!’ Nathan answered the king, ‘What ever is in your heart, go and do, for the Lord is with you.’ But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: ‘Go and tell David My servant, Thus says the Lord: Is it you who would build Me a house to dwell in? I have never dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up from Egypt to this day, but I have been going about in a tent or a tabernacle. As long as I have wandered about among the Israelites, did I ever say a word to any of the judges whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’
The thing is, we tend to lose sight of something quite important when Lent comes around on the ol’ calendar, Reader: And that’s where our focus should be. I’m not saying drilling down and praying more or fasting from things are bad. Of course these are great and wonderful things to do and teach others to do the same. But, I have a question for you, and I want you to really consider this: When you knew that Ash Wednesday was upon us, and you knew that that’s the kickoff to Lent, did you include God and His Opinion on what you should be doing this Lent? Or did you just go into it with the mindset of, ‘I’m going to do xyz this year, and it’s going to be great, and I’m going to have so much fun with this! Yes, let’s do this thing!’ and not consult God on what He wants you to do? Or not do?
Yes, absolutely pray more! Absolutely fast from things that normally are an issue between you and our Beloved Lord! Absolutely take time out each day to spend time with Him! But, at the same time, focus on what He’s trying to get your attention about!
I confess, my Lent this year isn’t going quite as well as I’d like, and yes, I know that it’s entirely my own fault that this is the case. It took a simple video on YouTube from one of my favourite channels to kick me in the pants and say, ‘Um… what do you think you’re doing, young lady? Hm?’ I didn’t consult God on what He felt I should do this year. I KNOW that giving up Facebook was a good idea, and to be honest, no, I don’t miss it nearly as much as I’d originally thought I would. Like I said in my last post about Lent, I gave it up last year and got so much out of Lent, but this year… sure, there’s that initial ‘I want to say something about this or share that with people I’m connected to on the ol’ Book of Faces,’ but I haven’t. So, here I am, using this as a means to do precisely that. It’s not to say that my Lent is going awfully, of course it isn’t, but transparency time: I admit I’ve not cracked the spine on my Breviary once except to put a slip of paper with an intention written on it into the pages for the Lenten season. I’ve not been praying as much as I would like, and definitely should be, but I try to keep my focus as much as I can on God in other ways.
...Let’s just stop right there and admit, too, that that’s not necessarily the only means to keep God in the equation. Prayer is always the best way to do that. ALWAYS. He is the One we should be consulting on everything: ‘Lord, how do You want me to approach our time together? I’d love to spend more time with You and get as much out of that time together as I can!’ But, we need to stop and remember to be deeply rooted in Thanksgiving, too. I don’t mean that holiday that rolls around toward the end of the year, either, Reader. I mean we need to have hearts of gratitude. Gratitude that our Lord loves us so fiercely, so deeply, and so all-consuming, that He’s deigned to give up His time in Heaven to come looking, actively, for us, to bring us to Him. I’ve mentioned this before, and I cannot stress this enough: He left the 99 sheep (Heaven) to come looking for the lost one (us) because He loves us so much, He doesn’t want Heaven without us! I cannot stress this enough! And I cannot remind myself enough of this fact, either.
I will tell you another completely transparent thing, since a lot of you reading my blog do not know me in person: My journey hasn’t been an easy one. I’m slowly getting to a place where I can accept this for its entirety, that it’s all gift, that God loves me that much. It’s an overwhelming thing to know that the God of the universe, Himself, loves even me that much to come actively searching for me, because He loves me that much. As someone who survived tremendous ugliness, that’s hard to just accept it for what it is at its face and be completely okay with it. I’m the kind of person who still actively waits for the other shoe to fall when things are going well in any interaction I have. I know that with God, that won’t ever happen. God’s in love with me as much as He is with anyone else on this planet, before or since me, and He knows me, He knows all about me, and He still loves me. For someone who never felt safe or accepted, genuinely accepted and wanted, that’s a lot to take in. I’m absolutely certain I’m not the only survivour who feels this way, the way of, ‘Are You kidding me? You love me, too!? Really!?’ It’s something that’s not just hard to wrap your head and heart around, but it’s almost crippling to sit under the weight of this love, this acceptance.
Doesn’t that warrant more than just a casual, ‘Hey, Jesus, thanks for that! You’re pretty swell for caring so much!’ But we need to sit down and be with Him, really be with Him and show our appreciation. How do we do that? It’s every bit as simple as it is difficult, I can promise you, but at the same time, it’s so, so worth it.
My wonderful Readers, listen. Lent isn’t about us. Let me repeat that for those of you in the back: LENT IS NOT ABOUT US! It’s a way to shift our focus back to where everything we have comes from. My priest last Saturday reminded us, ‘Nothing is ours. It’s all God’s. That’s why this is called Lent!’ And, I mean… when it’s put like that, don’t you think we need to stop and be more gracious? Right?
If there’s some reason you’ve reached out to God about, ‘Lord, what should I do for You for Lent?’ and He seems silent, I promise you, He’s most assuredly NOT telling you, ‘Nah, you’re good this year, My child.’ No. If He doesn’t seem like He’s being overly clear on what He wants you to do this year, maybe if there’s something He’s been wanting you to do throughout the year in other areas… why not tackle those things? But don’t do them as a means to check off something from the ol’ ‘to-do’ list, either. Do it with a heart of generosity toward God, ‘Lord, I am doing this for You because I am so grateful for what You’ve been doing for me in my life all throughout the year!’ I promise you, you won’t regret it.
May I ask a favour of you all? Take this time of Lent to let yourself form new habits of prayer, fasting, and not just let Lent be the only time these things happen. Some say it takes 21 days to build a habit. Lent’s 40 days long, and by my count, we’ve got a little over a month left now. This season has remaining 33 days, if I’m not mistaken. Now, I’m not one for those goofy ‘self-help’ motivational things – they are, to me, rather eye-roll-inducing, honestly, but I have to admit, one thing I’m wanting to do is get into better habits. Not just praying more, but taking better care of my mind, too. Part of that? Not staying up so late (she says as she hides the fact that she was up almost 24 hours… the day before… whoops). Listening to my body when it says, ‘I’m thirsty,’ going for water instead of sweet tea (because, let’s face it, I love some good sweet tea!), or when it says, ‘I’m sleepy,’ not pounding caffeine to fight through that.
Lent isn’t just our gift from God to spend more time with His Son. It’s also a way to say, ‘I don’t need to sit and veg for 17 hours in front of my telly watching Hulu.’ Or ‘I don’t need to hit up every sporting event ever. I can miss a few, and if my buddies don’t like it, well, that’s on them.’ The fact is, Scripture is clear on something: Even Jesus was all about the self-care. I can prove it!
In Genesis, the Creation Story? ‘On the seventh day He rested.’ He encourages us – COMMANDS us, really – to rest on His day. Sabbath isn’t just to be celebrated by going to Mass, hanging out with our Lord for an hour or whatever and coming home and doing whatever we want in terms of spending the day watching the big game or copious amounts of YouTube videos. In the Gospels, all throughout, multiple times, we’re told that Jesus ‘went off by Himself to pray.’ Why? Even our Lord needed some down time to recharge His Batteries a bit. Yes, He’s fully God, but He’s also a Human. He also did it because He wanted to hang out with the Father and check in.
I promise you, even the most social butterflies out there need time to just retreat a little bit and recuperate from all the socializing and mingling with friends and all. Speaking as an introvert, myself (and I have a friend who gives me a really hard time about this, too, he insists that I’m more of a social butterfly than I allow myself to admit, but he is sorely mistaken! Ha! Am not, so there!), I prefer quiet time to just chill and be goofy at home and enjoy being by myself. Just me and Jesus. I don’t mind spending time with people I like being around. Of course I love my friends and love spending time with them! But I find being around people All. The. Time. Exhausting! I’m an introvert, not anti-social. Anti-socials are scary. We introverts just prefer quiet than a lot of chaos.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this on here, and I won’t go into detail, but for a few weeks, I had people staying with me. It was equally delightful because I had people around to laugh and joke with in person, even horse around a few times, but at the same time, it was cripplingly exhausting to me because I only had one place here at home I could retreat to for some downtime, and even then, there was still noise. No real chance to recharge and just be for awhile without someone tapping on a door or shooting me a text to ask me a question.
When everyone went to their own again, it took me over a week to recover. I’m still finding that I’m still quite tired – physically and emotionally – from all of the commotion. The first couple of days after things died down, I didn’t go outside. I barely answered messages (depending on who it was meant if I would answer the note or not). One day, I shut my phone completely off to be able to be left alone for a few hours and not have someone trying to flail their arms in front of me for my attention yet again.
My point is, and I mentioned this two posts ago when I spoke about Lent, what it is and what it most assuredly is not for, there is no shame in taking time to just be. There should never be a reason that you have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of ‘I need! Gimme!’ that others have set up! Trust me when I tell you from experience, DON’T DO THAT.
Scripture advises us, sure, to love our neighbours and be a good human. What it also reminds us is that even our Beloved Lord took time to just be. When the Gospel writers included that, I’m certain that was because the Holy Spirit wanted to remind us equally gently but firmly that we need to do that, too. We are to follow Jesus’ Example in all things, and that includes taking time to step back from all the commotion of life and evaluate the terrain. Make sure we don’t accidentally wander into places that are potentially dangerous.
After all… if you don’t care for you, then you can’t expect to be able to care for others. If you’re not at 100%, you can’t expect that you’re going to be able to give your best to anyone who may legitimately need you: your children, your spouse, a sick or grieving loved one.
Look. The point of all this: it’s simple, and yet we make it so incredibly difficult for ourselves (and I promise you, I’m including myself in this)… We’re under scrutiny from not just the curious who don’t know Jesus, but those who don’t even believe in His Existence. We are called to live apart.
Be in the world, but not of it!’ - Jesus
One of the best times to dive in and not just participate in the peripheral sense, to just put on the front that we’re doing all the good things we’re supposed to do as believers, it’s now. Lent. It’s not to say, ‘BE THE PHARISEE!’ It’s to embrace the lifestyle of our Beloved Lord, up to and including sacrifice. What do I mean by that? Jesus and His friends could’ve easily just decided to traipse off to some distant place and spend the day hanging out, fishing, talking, and just being by themselves, but instead chose to show what needed to be done. Jesus sacrificed His time in Heaven to come to get His Hands dirty with the rest of us. I mean, why wouldn’t we thank Him for that, right? It was to show us how much we’re loved He chose to come and get as many people to come back to Him. It’s our job to take the time to sacrifice a football game or whatever else we do that distracts us from what we should be doing to show not just those who’ve fallen away, but it’s also to get those who are simply just standing by the gate at the roadside to invite them in to show how cool Jesus really is. The cause of our greatest and deepest joy is right there, straining to reach all the whole world. Not just a select few.
Ever notice in the prayers during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when the priest says, ‘… and for many.’ Notice it doesn’t say ‘...for all…’? That bothered me so much, the phrasing, I finally about two years ago asked my priest about that. He said something that physically hurt me, but it is the absolutely heart-breaking truth: ‘Because not everyone wants what’s being freely offered. Jesus isn’t going to force anyone to take Him for themselves. That’s why He said “many,” because not everyone wants to accept Him.’
Just remembering that conversation, my eyes are burning because I can feel the tears coming. Why? I honestly want to scream: WHY are we so blasé about God?! He wasn’t, nor will He ever be blasé about us!
My students, I’ve mentioned before, are really young. Five and six years old, the lot of them. These little people make me want to hug them all hard because of how sweet they are about how they approach God. When my co-teacher and I give them a lesson, we ask them if what we’re saying makes sense to them, and if it doesn’t, we try to break things down further so they will understand. Yes, working with these little humans is exhausting, but you know what? I always go in to Mass after we’re done with a renewed sense of gratitude that not only has Jesus seen something in me that He found worthy of helping to teach these little ones about Him, but He knows that I’m excited about Him and He knows that I don’t shut up about Him – and I never will.
Honestly, Readers, those little boys and girls, I always hope that they will grow up to be good and holy adults, who will spread the Gospel like wildfire.
And if we’ve done our jobs right as grown-ups, the children we’re not only directly in charge of in our lives – and in my case, classroom – but as a whole, whenever we go out or whenever we interact on social media, or wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, we should always, always live a life that points directly to God.
Because it’s not about you or me. It’s all about Him.
He is jealous for us. His love is reckless and it is overwhelming and never-ending. It’s up to us to not be blasé, but to be equally excited for Him as He is for us… We don’t deserve any of His Precious gifts of Love or Mercy, but He gives them to us, freely, because He loves us that much. Because that’s Who He is. He deserves, in turn, our love and attention. We owe Him at least that much. Give Him what little you think you have, and sit back and watch Him do amazing things with it, and don’t forget to be thankful and generous with what you give Him. Don’t hold anything back, because He didn’t for you. As my priest has been saying a lot lately, ‘Who would dare withhold the love and glory from God that He is due?’
Happy Lent, everyone. May God bless you all tremendously. Know that you are loved beyond any human words could express by a God Who would do – and has done – literally anything to make His love clear.