Is it Lent already? It can’t be! I’m not prepared for it!
I knew Lent was coming. I made notations on my calendar to remind me of days requiring fasting & abstinence. I’ve been bombarded with options to sign up for daily Lenten reflections from a half dozen organizations. I even bought a jar of peanut butter to have on hand. But I’m just not ready for Lent to start. And yet, here it begins, no matter how unprepared I am for it.
My routine changed when I moved down to Virginia two years ago and I have had a challenging time putting the puzzle pieces of my schedule together. The introspective side of me wants to tell the judgemental side of me not to be so harsh because I’m not doing the same routine I had in Pennsylvania. Things aren’t the same here, and I should expect Lent to be different as well. My former routine took another hit in 2020, and now I’ve realized: we were in Lent when everything turned upside down. In a way, it seems like it has been one long Lent, even though we did, in a very odd way, celebrate Easter and in a somewhat more normal way, Christmas. Wearing masks, reducing travel and social distancing has felt like one long penance practice. How can I think of what to focus on while we’re still facing this challenging pandemic?
The Church calls us to focus on three areas during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It’s not meant to be a rigorous schedule executed to perfection. Rather it’s supposed to be practice, where we work to improve on our weaknesses. To do this, we take corrective action and really focus on what we are doing. We need to apply our bodies, minds and souls, together in our efforts. Do you engage your body in prayer? Does your soul participate in your fasting actions? How eager is your mind to write that check out for a donation? Just typing those questions has me thinking that I have a lot of practicing to do. However, I don’t have to tackle everything at once. I don’t have to have everything planned out down to the second. What I do need, with some guidance by the Holy Spirit through prayer, is a goal for each week within one of those three areas. Just as if practicing on a musical instrument or for a sport, you wouldn’t over-do it in the first few days, but rather work on the basics and grow from there. The same rings true for practice in the spiritual realm. The things you find yourself stumbling over indicate where you need to spend time practicing.
The main goal of Lent is to prepare us to celebrate Easter feeling a little bit closer in our relationship with God and His Will for us. This results in heightened care and concern for all that God has created and lessened interest in our wants. Just as in sports, training and practices never end; the focus just shifts from intense training to get conditioned for the season to the actual games themselves. Lenten practices don’t have to end either; they can be incorporated into our lives, if not daily, then on a regular basis so we can keep ourselves in top spiritual condition.
While others may have different reasons as to why they are not prepared for Lent, I’m sure I’m not the only one. The Church in her wisdom gives us a place to start with fasting and abstaining from meat. If you do that on day one, it is a solid start. You then have 39 days to focus on what to practice in additional areas. And with grace and guidance from God, those days will fly by so fast, we’ll be amazed when it’s already Easter!