Each year during Lent, I hope for an epic fail. Don’t get me wrong, I also hope each year to try my best to be the best Christian I can be. Lent is a gift that allows us to focus on being more attentive to prayer, to let go of our own self centeredness through fasting and abstinence, and to finding ways to serve those who are the least among us. But above all else during Lent I pray that I might fail, so that God will succeed. Recently a friend shared with me that for most of his life when something good happened, he would immediately take the credit. When something bad occurred, he would blame that on God. Like my friend, my ego too often gets in the way of living a successful Christian life. It is easy to forget that it is only through the power of God that any of my successes are possible.
Ironically, it is in times of failure that I can most recognize my need for God’s presence in my life. This is why I value Lent so much. Lent presents me with the opportunity to make the commitment to become a better person. Each Lent I am challenged to look at my life and find the areas that need the most work. Lent gives me a reason to pick one or two of those areas that need growth and commit to changing them from the better. It also allows me to fail miserably in my attempts. Those failures are a helpful reminder that ultimately my best bet is to rely on God’s power rather than my own.
If you find yourself struggling with Lent, if you feel you are failing in your attempts to grow during this season, try turning your failures over to God. He wants to succeed where you have failed. If you allow him to, he will.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:16)
People often ask about how Catholics define fasting and abstinence for the season of Lent, as those words can have many different meanings. Jonathan Teixeira, over at the FOCUS blog, has a great illustrated guide for all you Catholics who need a reminder. Check it out here.
Some of the best advice ever given me has to do with maintaining an automobile. Change the oil and air filter, check the tire pressure often, and get regular tune ups. While I am by no means an expert when it comes to cars, I know how to handle the basic things. The key to longevity in the life of any vehicle is keeping the engine in tune. One might say the same thing for the spiritual life. Regular tune ups are an absolute necessity if we are to extend the life of our souls.
Lent is the season for getting our souls in tune and it is rapidly approaching. Traditionally the Church recommends three areas where we can focus our efforts in the fine tuning of our lives as Christians. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving are certainly not meant to be limited to the season of Lent, but we Christians are called to pay special attention to these foundational areas for growth as we prepare to celebrate Easter. Just as we set aside time for a regular checkup with our doctor, having our teeth cleaned at the dentist, or changing the spark plugs in our cars, Lent is the time to do the maintenance that is required to lead healthy spiritual lives.
Over the course of this holy season, I hope to offer some simple suggestions for ways that we can use these forty days of Lent to help get our spiritual engines running smoothly again. May our communal efforts to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel help one another as we journey together towards the coming celebration of Easter.