But the year I heard this on the radio was the first year that I learned that Lent is not just a period to give up some comfort as a sacrifice for God. Lent is a time of preparation and cleansing when you look to your habits from the rest of the year and see what permanent changes you can make in your life to grow closer to God. This host, who was giving up chewing tobacco for forty days, had a reputation on the show as a ladies man, sleeping around, taking women home, having meaningless sex with them. At the time, he did a weekly remote from a local strip club. And for Lent, he was giving up....chewing tobacco. I remember thinking at the time, what a misconception he had, and feeling quite superior that I had (no matter how recently) learned what it was all about! As I look back now, I feel kind of sad that so many of us were brought up with this legalistic, checklist-style Catholicism. It smacks of hypocrisy, even though that wasn't the intent, and does not teach or explain the full richness of our faith.
So tomorrow starts Lent, and many people will give up chocolate, or chewing tobacco, or smoking, or even Facebook in what has become a second chance to start the diet you promised you would start after New Year's. But as I post every year at this time, this is not just about giving up chocolate as a sacrifice. Lent is about looking at your relationship with Jesus and seeing what you can remove from your life that might be blocking that relationship. It is also about adding things to your life to improve your relationship with Jesus.
This is something very important for me this year as I have been really wondering about what God's plan is for me and my family, and if He even has a plan for us. The truth is that I am in a place where my faith and trust in Him is struggling. So this year, I am going to concentrate on a couple of things. I will not go online at night until I have read the readings for the next day. These two parts of my bedtime ritual need to be switched up as it is far more important for me to be awake when I read God's word than it is for me to get through my friends' Facebook updates. The second thing I am doing, is something that was recommended by our new Parish Priest, Father Joe Cooper. When I told him how I was feeling in confession, Father Joe told me about Fr. Solanus Casey, whose Cause is being reviewed for Beatification and Canonization. Father Casey would tell people to thank God before praying for any petition or for His guidance, because even if your prayer is not answered to your expectation, it is because God knows His plan for you and knows that sometimes what you need and what you want are not the same thing. So last night I put together a prayer to pray every morning thanking God for having a plan for me and asking Him for guidance toward what He knows is best. In case you like the idea, here is the prayer I came up with:
Lord, thank you for your plans for me.
For I know it is by your grace that I have each day of my life.
And as I ask for your help, I more so seek trust in your will for me
that if my desires are not granted, then it is your wisdom
and your desires for me that make it so. And I know that you only desire
what is best for me and my family.
So I ask today for your guidance;
That I may have the wisdom to hear your voice;
And the courage to carry out your will.
As I said, Lent is not about giving up chocolate, unless that is the tool that Satan is using to pry you away from Jesus. (I must admit, I have tasted chocolate this good!). It is not just about eating the Fisherman's Platter on Friday instead of the Prime Rib. Lent is a chance to look at your relationship with God and say, "What can I rearrange in this mess that is my life to make a little more room for Jesus? And what can I do to more accurately imitate him and truly be the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Christ?"
Anyone who read my last post, knows that I will most likely be working on striking a better balance when I speak to people about passionate issues. I will also put effort in to paying more attention to God's word and trying to be thankful for all that he gives to me....and even for the things He does not give to me.
Happy Lent everybody! I'll be praying for you, please pray for me!