By Fran Lavelle
I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled to welcome Lent. Questions of what we can do to mark the season with meaning and purpose gives rise to some serious introspection. The thing is, for most of us, Spring is a marathon run at sprint speeds. From the blooming of the first daffodil in mid-February until the last pecan tree sets its leaves, the unfolding of Spring is as chaotic as it is beautiful.
The austerity of Lent is the Dr. Jekyll to Spring’s Mr. Hyde. That is, perhaps, the reason I am grateful for the season, especially this year. The speed of life really does ramp up the older one gets. Months that used to drag on forever in my youth now seem to pass with warp speed. I remember in grade school the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving seemed like an eternity. Now it feels like a few days.
The very last thing we need is to allow our Lenten observations to become check marks in our already hectic lives. Yes, Lent should have a measure of sacrifice but if our Lenten observations add to our “list of things to do” and are not opportunities to be experienced, we are merely adding cargo to the hamster wheel.
Searching for some new ideas I turned to my friend and arbitrator of all disagreements, Google. The internet is full of ideas of what to do to make Lent more meaningful, from “40 things to fast from” to “50 new things to give up for Lent” which, no lie, included falling asleep at Church. Dang, that’s deep. I’ve thought about this a lot and concluded that I will observe Lent a little differently this year. For what it is worth, here’s my list:
1) This year I am going fast from being busy. Now this does not mean that I will not get my work done or cease in being productive. What it does mean is I will be measured in my response to the work at hand. I can be Chicken Little and squawk about the sky falling, as in proclaiming my busy-ness to anyone who will listen, or I can be grateful for the opportunities for encounter with others that my work brings.
2) I am going to be intentional in accepting others where they are. I have discovered the hard way that there are difficult people in all walks of life. Our family, workplace, volunteer group, and Bible study group all have one thing in common, people. We are all created in the likeness and image of God. Understanding that we are all God’s beloved should stop us dead in our tracks. To quote Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”
3) I’m going to spend more time with and be more present to the people I love. In the past two years, three of my contemporaries from high school and college have died. All three in their mid-fifties. Their deaths have been a huge wake-up call for me. I need to spend more time with my family and friends to laugh more, love more and enjoy one another more.
4) In spending more time with people I love, I might laugh a little harder, drink some good wine and share a delicious meal or two. There is something wholesome in gathering people around my table. I recently had a dinner for some friends who are moving. We laughed and shared stories, we enjoyed a good meal, and in all of it I was reminded that the love is real, and love is eternal. It is not a matter of excess. It is not an expression of gluttony. It is an intentional effort to be present in the moment. In hospitality, I am called to enjoy the gift and blessings of family and friends. Mind you, I will honor the time that I am alone and quieted and present to God. Those times are essential. I find great value in God’s word, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 However, I also see value in being present and loving well. That well may mean having salmon instead of fish sticks.
5) Last but not least, I am going to work on dumping my relationship with fear. This is a big one. More than I care to admit, I am afraid of the unknown. Too often, I fall into the rabbit hole that can lead me on an exhausting litany of “what ifs”. Fear guts my faith and disrupts my trust in God. One. Day. At. A. Time. This is the one that will be the hardest to be present to, but I am putting myself in front of the situation and opening a dialogue with God asking for help.
St. Augustine reminds us that, “Fear is the enemy of love.” If true, then love is the antidote for fear. At the end of my examination, at the end of the introspection is the voice of God calling me to love more profoundly. A bit more challenging than giving up falling to sleep in Mass. But if I am successful in even a very small way, I can’t think of a better way to spend these 40 days of Lent.
(Fran Lavelle is the director of the Department of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)