Lent: 40 Days of Love

I entered into Lent with a whimper and a whine this year. I didn’t want to give anything up. I’m holding onto sanity by a thread – and that thread is Coke Zero, chocolate, and potato chips. If I give up any of those I may lose my will to live. So I thought I would instead add something…but I hadn’t come up with something I felt I could commit to for 40 days, beyond getting my 14 year old daughter to agree to pray Evening Prayer with me on our matching Laudate Apps.

The day began with me whining myself out of going to Mass. I slept in trying to recover the time lost from being awakened at some strangely early and dark hour of the morning. I knew the squealing water pipes were just my upstairs neighbor turning on the shower, but it was so loud (and I am still so sound sensitive) I couldn’t fall back asleep. By actual morning, I felt like a steam roller had rolled over me and there was a particularly busy day to get through. So I put Mass off to get an extra couple hours sleep, convincing myself I would go in the evening. Of course by the time I got home later, I felt like crying from brain exhaustion and didn’t want to leave the house, even for Mass. Driving is one of the most tiring activities for my brain, I had done much more than usual out of necessity, and I just couldn’t push through to drive anymore. And of course, it’s not a holy day of obligation any way, so no sin in being absent. (Just a spiritual disappointment breaking through the brain exhaustion.)

Although I knew it was Ash Wednesday, I forgot that also meant it was a day of fast and abstinence. Lunch would not have been a chicken sandwich picked up via drive-through and eaten in the car if I had remembered. It was a disappointing when I remembered mid-afternoon. At least I was able to abstain from meat for dinner and ignore the siren call of a new box of  The World’s Best donuts. And blame my post-concussion syndrome that I forgot to fast/abstain the entire day.

There was finally a breakthrough in my Lenten grumpiness when I read a post guest-written by Fr. Aiden Kieren over at Faith In Our Families and called “The Little Way of Fasting.” That title caught my eye and I knew I had to read it, even though I was trying to quickly scan through my email before I began to do some writing. (Like maybe work on those forgiveness articles that stalled out when they overwhelmed my poor concussed brain?)

This excellent post by Fr. Kieren reframed Lent for me, and did so with the words of one of my favorite saints when he wrote: 
“St Therese of Lisieux teaches us that the “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.” These words made me realise that the way I had been approaching the Lenten fast in the past was wrong. Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity.”

How could I have forgotten the heart of the Little Flower’s message to us? Even Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:2 wrote, “…if I am without love, I am nothing.” I have not been considering Lent out of love. I have looked at it as one who is clinging to dead things, feeling as though so many good things have already been taken from me that I don’t want to give up anything else. Clutching these dead things to me as false comfort. Instead I need to look at it again in love, rather than “a test of endurance.” I might feel at the end of my rope of endurance, but I’m not at the end of my rope of love. I may not be able to give up all those dead things I’m clutching, but I can remember that they are dead things. I can remember that there is One who loves me and to whom I want to return love for love. The love is in the little things. The love is in the intentions, not the endurance. 

I will sacrifice what I can in my current condition, not looking at the “amount” as being too little or unworthy of being a “good-enough” sacrifice. I will sacrifice with love, lots of love, even if it is a very small sacrifice. My love won’t even be a delightful feeling, it will just be my decision to open my heart to the One who has given me so much, in gratitude for the unearned love He has for me. And those things that “give me the will to live” – my Coke Zero , chocolate, and chips (which I still won’t be giving up this Lent – at least not for an entire 40 days.) – those I will choose not to love more than I love God. It will be in some little way. But it will be a choice made in love.

Thank you, Fr Kieren! This Lent will now be 40 days of love for me and I will give up my burdened feeling of beginning an exhausting journey. 

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