Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lent

Amazingly enough, tomorrow is already Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten journey towards Easter. Weren't we just celebrating Christmas?!? As happens to me every year at this time, the days leading up to Ash Wednesday are filled with conflicting emotions: excitement that Easter will soon be upon us, but mostly, anxiety about the discipline that I know comes with the Lenten season! How silly that after all these years of going through Lent I still dread the discipline that comes with it - I know the fruits of extra prayer, fasting, works of mercy, etc., but part of me is afraid to enter into it all! I think this is because Lent is in large part about dying - to our own desires, inclinations, habits, whatever - in order that we might LIVE as we were intended to live. But dying is hard, it doesn't come naturally (at least to me!), so I will be asking Our Lord for many graces this Lent!

I found the following "Question and Answer" page to be helpful in my preparation:

Here is a neat idea for a children's activity during Lent:
"Crown of Thorns"
Twist some bread dough into a braid and then into a circle, making sure that the ends are together. After it has risen for the last time, place sharp toothpicks all over the braid, but not too far in as you want it to look like a crown with thorns sticking out.
As children are caught being good, carrying out a work of mercy, or other good works, let them pull a thorn out of Jesus' crown and place it in a jar. Remind them that every time we do these things we are truly aiding Him, but when we do the opposite we are wounding Him again.

One final thought on this Ash Wednesday...The reflection in our parish's Lenten booklet for today actually relates very well to the reason for our blogs title, "Building Cathedrals," so it caught my attention. Here is a small portion:

"Historians tell us that the stone carvers of the famous medieval cathedrals never signed their art. They preferred to work anonymously, solely for the honor and glory of God. The story of the stone carvers and the words of Jesus about not making a show of what you do invite me to inventory my motives for working and giving."

In the context of being a wife and mother, the idea of "not making a show" of what we do day in and day out can be a very humbling, and at times frustrating, thing for us to do! On days when I have spent lots of time cleaning the house, or when the kids and I have had a particularly difficult day, or when I haven't gotten much sleep because the baby was up a lot, I want to tell my hubby about it so that he knows what I have done for our family! Of course, the truth is that he usually notices whether I tell him or not, but when he doesn't notice, boy do I get frustrated! Here comes the tough part: If I notice that I'm getting resentful towards my hubby and kids because I'm feeling unappreciated, should I offer up my frustration and move on, or should I talk to my hubby about it? I don't think that there is one clear-cut answer, and here's why: For the sake of preserving a strong marriage union, I think that there needs to be clear communication with our spouse about how we're feeling, especially when resentment starts to creep in. On the other hand, it would be great if I could offer up my frustrations for the sufferings of others, the sins of the world, etc., and I will ask Our Lord for the grace to do this more often!

This makes me realize that ET probably feels unappreciated just as often as I do, which makes me think that maybe we should give each other the "benefit of the doubt" more often. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could assume that ET is doing the best that he can for our family all of the time, whether I see it or not?! Then maybe I wouldn't get so upset when he walks in the door a few minutes late :)

Thanks for bearing with me in this rambling post! May God bless you and your family as we venture into this season of Lent together!

5 comments:

Right Said Red said...

I also cannot believe that Lent has arrived so soon. We are in total chaos around here as I have had the flu and just last night Charlie started running a fever. We have been off our regular routine for the past couple weeks due to the arrival of baby Augustine, and now this illness, so this year the discipline of Lent seems very overwhelming! Survival has been my motto lately, but survival seems a poor goal for Lent. I always tend to overdue it a bit with Lenten commitments and then I get overwhelmed and I am unable to fulfill mt committments. With a newborn baby and three kids to juggle, this year we decided to keep it simple. 1) We will add the Angelus to our daily routine. 2) We will do formal evening prayer as a family after dinner/before bed. 3) On a personal note, I will do a better job of offering up my daily sufferings-- like what you mentioned in your post--instead of complaining or getting angry, and having joy in my growing family. All simple things, but if we can actually stick to them, especially the last one, it will be a beautiful Lent indeed!

Kat said...

Red, I hope that you guys feel better soon, the flu is just awful! I love your ideas for Lent, especially because they incorporate your entire family.

With regards to Lenten commitments, I remember once telling a priest that I often felt overwhelmed during Lent because I felt like I should be "giving up" all sorts of different things. I would walk around thinking, "Should I be giving coffee up? Maybe ice cream too? All sweets? Oh, and what about TV?" It was as if I felt that I should give up everything that everyone else was giving up, or everything that I had given up from past years.

In any case, the priest of course told me that I was missing the point. Giving things up is not an end in itself, it is a means to the end of spiritual discipline and growth. If I was walking around for 40 days feeling confused and guilty about everything that I did, I would be focusing more on myself than on Christ himself! He advised me to set prayerful, realistic goals for myself during Lent, and then to let go of everything else.

Any thoughts?

sixandthecity said...

So, sometimes I look at Lent as a bit of a game, a chance to practice controlling my will so that when it comes to more important and more difficult things, I am ready. Today, I am not strictly fasting since I am nursing a baby, but I have been keeping my meals simple and I set a goal not to eat between meals. I have already messed up! I am so weak, but I also learned a lot. As I was cleaning up from breakfast I noticed that our regular bin of trail mix was empty, so I decided to quickly mix up a batch. Well, with the open bag of pecans right in front of me, I reached in and grabbed one, without even thinking about it.

The lesson here, for me was remember that you are weak and, whenever possible, give yourself a chance at success by avoiding the near occasion of sin! Perhaps someday I could be around open food and not eat it, but apparently not today, and I should have just kept away from the cupboard!

Another thing is, it always helps to distract myself. During quiet time, when I often take advantage of a few moments to myself to have a snack that I don't have to share with the children. Today, as I found myself thinking about heading to the kitchen, I grabbed my knitting instead. My hands and my mind were occupied and I soon forgot about the m&m's in my bedside table.

So, avoid the temptation and do something else. It would seem like not such a big deal that I ate a pecan or didn't eat an m&m, but these lessons can have really significant applications.

I don't know if this is too personal to put on a blog, but we started this blog as an extension of our real conversations, so I am just going to be honest: I think that I need to apply these lessons to Natural Family Planning. I have read books that encourage couples to still "cuddle" or be "romantic" when they are avoiding conception, but to me this is like putting your hand in the cookie jar!

Right Said Red said...

Kat,

Your experience with the priest is so funny...I get the same way! I always feel guilty that I am not doing more for Lent, especially when it comes to food. This year, I specifically decided not to give up food items, as I already have a very limited diet due to Augustine's milk allergy. I am, however, trying to offer up that limited diet for God, since I am sortof forced into it for my baby.

MaryAlice,

I never thought of the NFP/eating parallel, but now that you mention it, I agree that certain types of snuggling and romance are akin to having your hand in the cookie jar. I think the idea behind showing affection and romance while in the abstaining part of the month are good in theory, but they must be practiced properly to avoid the serious temptation. For example, going out to dinner is romantic, but not very close to the cookie jar. Likewise, I find a hug somewhat romantic and affectionate...but again, not that close to the cookie jar. There are other things, such as snuggling in bed or snuggling while watching a movie that might be too tempting and are better left alone until Phase III!

Juris Mater said...

Kat--thank you for the lovely post with food for thought (what a nice food-related idiom on a fast day).

Kat, MaryAlice and Red--I've decided ("decided" always being subject to change as I grow in wisdom and maturity) that, as a mother of young children and a growing family, there are two basic seasons that I could be in as any given Lent arrives: (1) survival season or (2) maintenance season. I think it's safe to say that you three are all in a "survival" season, having just had babies in the last few months or weeks.

This is the first time in a couple years that I'm not in survival season as Lent arrives. I'm not nursing. I'm pregnant but comfortable, 6 months along. My children are relatively controllable and predictable. We haven't moved recently. And I LOVE it. This is already my favorite Lent in a while. For the first time in several years, I'm physically able to do physical penances, and I'm emotionally able to sincerely reflect on the level of order, simplicity, purity, formation, etc in the daily life of my family. I can identify my distractions and attachments with much more clarity, because, in maintenance season, I have more leisure and temptation of BEING really distracted and attached (compared to survival season, where attachments/distractions are more like little, innocent treats to keep me going... that cookie jar is an entitlement!). My Lenten resolutions are all the things that have been lingering in my head for a while as weaknesses but I haven't grabbed the reins yet. Now, thanks to the extra graces and kick-in-the-pants of Lent, I feel ready to roll. MAINTENANCE SEASON IS WONDERFUL!! (Although of course there's nothing like being a mother to a newborn.)

I've been surprised by all this already, this Lent. I thought the last couple of Lents, which came in the midst of "survival mode", were a bit... well... confusing. My daily life was Lent already! I felt guilty for not doing more or being more reflective, but I didn't know how to take on anymore. How do I get up early for Mass when I'm up all night? How do I fast when I'm producing food for a young nursing baby while chasing a toddler? How do I serenly reflect on order and simplicity when I'm barely able to keep children fed, clothed and out of the street? I love hearing what you three are thinking of this Lent, and I want to save this post for future reference.

Any more thoughts about the wax and wane in a mom's life and the changing nature of Lenten penances?

May God bless us and our families in this Lenten retreat!