Lenten Check-Up: Don’t be Afraid to Start Again

palm sundayI remember those Lents when I kept my resolution but still failed in what I set out to do. By giving up chocolate, diet soda, the internet and social media, I emerged from those 40 days slimmer, less addicted to caffeine, and Facebook-free, yet no stronger spiritually. The Lents that drew me closer to God were those when I stopped trying to “better myself,” and submitted to the will of the Lord.

The Lent I remember most fondly was the year I phoned my sister every day to pray a Hail Mary. My sister and I are 11 years apart, living in different states. She has three children and deals with the struggles of a young family. I am awash in teenagers, with all the trials they bring. We’d lost our father that Ash Wednesday, and mourning through the 40 days by just reciting one prayer together each day made the loss more bearable.

“Hail Mary, full of grace…”

As a Catholic, I say this prayer so often, it can become a mindless exercise, but it isn’t meant to be. Calling my sister, sometimes we would rush through it, like checking a box: I did my Lenten duty today.

Over the weeks, however, the conversations grew deeper and the Hail Mary came out slower. We prayed it together and meant it more. The Blessed Mother knit our hearts closer together in the process. Saying a single prayer might seem small, and yet that Lent bore much fruit because it was no longer an outward attempt at holiness, but an internal journey toward intimacy, both with each other and with God through Mary. Upon reflection, I can tell those “failed” Lents had good intentions, good plans, but they weren’t journeys into the desert. Seeking God always brings us closer to others. That Lent, the desert of our relationship bloomed.

So if you’ve found yourself flunking out of Lent, perhaps it is time to reassess your practice and your goals. Have you gone into the desert? Have you chosen a Lenten resolution to deepen your relationship with God and others, or are you doing something for yourself and calling it Lenten sacrifice? If you find that this Lent you have not yet oriented yourself toward God by going into the desert, it’s not too late to begin. Yes, we’ve celebrated Laetare Sunday and are more than halfway through the 40 days, but God meets us where we are. Don’t let a good resolution today go to waste just because it isn’t Ash Wednesday.

Start over by going out into the desert toward the Lord. Find a prayer partner, even by phone. Help a neighbor, even one you’ve ignored before. Hold your tongue rather than gossip. Forgive a longtime wrong, lift a grudge from your shoulders, or free someone else from your anger. Look over the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy – 14 in all, one for each day of the final two weeks of Lent. Trust that God will work with whatever you bring him, and make your desert bloom.

Reprinted with permission from FathersForGood.org.

Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, D.C., with her husband and their ten children.
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