Sometimes I think it’s worse than Christmas… Every year Lent sneaks up on me, and I feel unprepared; left scrambling to put together a Lenten sacrifice. Forced to make a decision on Ash Wednesday, I either fall back on traditional favourites (chocolate & booze), or I try to become an aesthetic monk overnight. Much like the Christmas gifts purchased on December 24th, these last minute Lenten ideas are doomed to fail from the start.
So, with a few days to go before Ash Wednesday, I’m beginning in earnest to think about how best to use Lent to bend my own stiff-necked will towards God’s. As I have done the past few years, I want to build my sacrifice on the 3 Pillars of Lent: Prayer, Fasting and Sacrifice. And like every year, I have a hard time figuring out where to start.
This year, however, as my preparation for Lent has been percolating in the back of my mind over the past couple of weeks, the Holy Spirit has continually whispered that I need to use Lent to look beyond Easter. At first this idea seemed silly, Lent is a time to prepare for Easter, and the sacrifice is supposed to end with the greatest feast in the Catholic calendar. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Lent is supposed to be a life changing experience; and how can our sacrifice have any value if we simply slip back into our old habits once the 40 days are over?
So this year I am planning my Lent with an eye to beyond Easter. By leaning on the Three Pillars of Lent, I hope to make changes that after 40 days will become habit.
As those who have gotten to know me over the years are well aware of, I’m quite honest about how my prayer life tends to ebb and flow like ocean tides. There are times (weeks and months even) where I can be on a spiritual high; while there are other points in the year when I beat myself up for letting my prayer life slip. I find this ebb and flow of prayer life tends to follow the seasons, and it’s during the dark days of winter that I fall into the dark days of my soul. I need an extra push to get out of bed before the sun rises in the morning, as well as a (not so) gentle nudge to pull on boots and parka to walk the dogs and say my Rosary. It’s as though my prayer get-up-and-go got-up-and-went with the end of the Christmas season.
Although Lent is meant to be a season of barren preparation to mirror Christ’s 40 days in the desert, I see it as a season of renewal in my prayer life. Lent is a time to take up once again all of those prayer promises I have made throughout the year, yet have let wane. I won’t go out of my way to start any new prayer practices during Lent; I’ve already done that sporadically throughout the year. What I will do, however, is make good on those promises, hopefully making prayer habits that will endure day 41 and beyond.
Much like my prayer life, when it comes to fasting I all too often make promises that I can’t keep, so Lent is also a time of renewal of lost habits along with a season specific sacrifice. Recently, I have tried to take on the Early Christian tradition of fasting on both Wednesdays and Fridays – something that is easy enough to do while busy at work; an all-together much more difficult beast to tame once I get home or on holidays.
Although fasting can take on many different forms, and the rules put out by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops are probably purposefully vague (“Fasting means cutting down on the amount and richness of our food and drink”), on days of fasting I try to limit myself to 2 small meals (usually breakfast and lunch) and one medium-sized meal (dinner). My Achilles heel is snacking. Getting home from school ravenous, I’ll look to the cupboard to see what can tie me over until dinner. The problem is, once the first snack is munched, the floodgates open and I can’t stop until I feel guilty having taken seconds at supper. The only strategy I find that works is to avoid the temptation to sin, keeping the cupboards bare.
The other challenge I find during times of fasting are weekends and holidays. There is always that awkward moment when visiting friends or family when I need to explain why I’m not eating, or at least not eating as much as I usually do. As I look forward into lent, however, I see this as a chance to witness and explain the faith, as well as an opportunity to strengthen my Christian resolve. If I can be strong is something as small as fasting, I’ll be all the more ready when God calls on me for a bigger sacrifice.
Charitable giving seems like the forgotten Lenten Pillar. Everyone is so focussed on what they are giving up for Lent, they forget that there can be a positive side to this season of sacrifice, and we can do something to help our fellow human. In past years my Lenten resolve has been to put a certain sum of money into the poor box on a weekly basis. Happily, this has become a habit that has extended beyond the Lenten season, so I can no longer lean on this as part of my Lenten sacrifice. So now I need to get creative…
Having prayed on this aspect of my Lent for this year, I have thought to link my Lenten fasting to almsgiving. Lately, as a family, we have become more and more susceptible to the habit of eating out. Over busy and over tired, we will quickly fall for the quick solution of eating out instead of preparing even the simplest of meals at home. This year (with my family’s cooperation, of course), I would like us to fast from eating out, and using the money we save (which has the potential to be considerable) for almsgiving. Hopefully this too will become a habit once Lent is over.
I encourage you to take these last few days before Lent begins to prayerfully think about the sacrifices of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving that you want to undertake. When preparing for your Lent this year, have and eye to beyond Easter so that your Lenten Sacrifice can become an Easter Habit.