One of my favorite ways to prepare for Lent is by emptying my surroundings of chocolate....in preparation...
This year, I think I've done a decent job of anticipating it. I almost look forward to it after the excesses of Christmas. It is a way to re-order, re-balance things in our lives, or at least in mine. Some years, though, not too long ago, Ash Wednesday would show up on the calendar, and I would think..."Hmmm.....wonder what I should do/give up for Lent this year??? Hmmm...." "Oh maybe I'll give up....ummm....the computer....or maybe....I'll pray more.....or.....ummmm....."
Recently I've come to look at Lent as a way of fixing what's "broken" in our lives and a way of joining in the Paschal Mystery with Jesus. So before Lent, I try to tune into the things that God might be trying to tell me he'd like to help fix, those things that I feel a little twinge or stress when I think about.
A few years ago, I had the 8th grade class from hell. Almost as a joke, I gave up complaining about them. It was hard; they were awful. But by the end of Lent, amazing changes had taken place in that class - several had been moved to other placements, and a pleasant, new student showed up. My worst class finished as one of my favorites. Coincidence? Or God at work?
Last year, I decided to give up complaining about my dear hubby, and it wasn't as hard as the 8th graders, and paid much bigger dividends. I knew it was God at work.
One of my usual penances is to give up chocolate. Giving up stuff seems to get a bad rap these days, but it has its benefits, too. I don't imagine that I'm doing God a favor by giving up chocolate. But when you consider that most (all) sin is us putting our will ahead of God's will, then it makes sense to say "no" to our will. If we can do it with something that is fairly neutral, like chocolate, then perhaps when we are tempted to sin, we can also say "no". There is also value in redemptive suffering. I won't pretend for a second that passing up the chocolate chip cookie is anything close to the suffering that Jesus endured on our behalf, but he does allow us to share in His suffering....to unite our suffering with His. Jesus' sacrifice was complete on its own; he surely doesn't need my chocolate withdrawals to save mankind, but He allows me to offer it. Something like when a mother allows a 2-year-old to "help" her mix up a cake. She certainly doesn't need his help, but she allows him to put a spoon in and stir.
And along with the giving up, comes the doing something "extra". I have found that attending the Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings help me appreciate the season and the celebration more. One year, I read a meditation each day and journalled; that was a good thing. Last year I tried to attend adoration every week; but that was sometimes difficult to find the hour or so involved.
So for now, I will look at the things that take too much in my life: too much money, too much time, too much stress, too much interference with my peace of mind - and look for ways that God might be calling me to change them - whether through fasting or prayer or giving up or doing more.
God willing, at the end of Lent, my will shall line up a little closer to His will. Join me?
Until then, I'll be eating healthy quantities of chocolate!
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