Positive Lenten routines can enhance the spiritual life
by Julie VanSpall
Photo Caption: Do good deeds this Lent, writes Julie VanSpall. While fasting from wine or chocolates, one can also go to Mass more often, take time to pray, or help a stranger. (designpics.com)
A dear friend explained to me this year her New Year’s resolution is to eat more cheese.
I laughed when she told me this because she loves cheese and her resolution sounds indulgent compared to more common resolves to radically alter imperfect lives!
She explained she needs to make more time for things that bring her joy. Since she loves cheese, why not eat it more often?
While most people try to remove a negative habit from their lives, my friend has chosen to add something she deems positive to hers. Her goal is guaranteed to foster a spirit of gratitude. I like her attitude.
In fact adding positive things to our routine is encouraged during Lent. As with New Year’s resolutions, we usually hear of people opting to remove something from their lives, however the three pillars of Lent are prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, which include both adding and taking away.
Each Lent, I attend more Masses. These additions to my routine have definitely reminded me of the importance of my faith.
I have also given up chocolate or wine for Lent. The temptations of these small sacrifices have humbled me and made me realize that I cannot possibly comprehend the sacrifice Christ made for me. However, they haven’t permanently enhanced my faith. They are more like New Year’s resolutions, which temporarily remind me of my imperfections and test my willpower (both of which have merit), but as soon as Easter comes, I go right back to indulging my weaknesses.
Last Lent, I added a prayer routine to my mornings. I now cannot imagine starting my days without getting up half an hour earlier than necessary to awaken my soul with spiritual readings and silent reflection.
This Lenten routine carried into Ordinary Time because it allowed me to offer my day to God and to ponder Christ’s love for me. It changed me and will sustain me for the rest of my life. As a result, this year I aim to add new activities to my life that will allow me to share that love with those around me.
In a blog post by Karen Ehman (karenehman.com/blog), she lists five ideas to “celebrate Lent backwards.” She suggests adding to our routines, rather than taking away. Since each of her ideas requires the sacrifice of “a little chunk of your time each day,” they could fit into either category.
The following ideas are from Ehman’s blog:
Jot a note: Write a note to one person each day. “Each morning upon arising or every night just before bed, write a special message to someone … at the end of Lent, you will have made 40 souls smile.”
Grab your phone: Phone someone different each day, to simply let them know “how glad you are that they are in your life.”
Lighten a load: Perform random acts of kindness. Could you unload the dishwasher when it’s someone else’s turn? Could you pick up coffee for a co-worker? Perhaps you could make a meal for someone. “Be on the lookout for ways to lighten the load of one person each day.”
Help a stranger: Hold doors for people in the mall, or let someone go ahead of you in line at the store. I have been in a drive-through and had someone ahead of me pay for my order. Paying it forward is a lovely practice.
Serve a servant: Give back to those who serve us every day: mail carriers, grocery store clerks, coaches, receptionists, priests. A small gift, note, or word of thanks can go a long way.
Whether we add to our routine, or remove from it, we need to do so with a joyful and grateful heart. Going into caffeine withdrawal is only good if we keep our suffering between Christ and ourselves, rather than making everyone else pay because we have a headache. Doing good deeds is only good if we do so out of love and not to be acknowledged, for “your Father who sees in secret will repay you,” (Matt. 6: 4).
No matter what we choose, we are called to bring Christ to the world during Lent and beyond.