In the week or two before Lent, I thought, “It’s that time of year again. The time of year when I feel like saying ‘bah humbug!’ Where I feel like it’s just too hard to add more sacrifices to my life as a mother to four, two of whom have health problems and special (read: Spartan) diets.” The idea of keeping on top of all their various sacrifices for Lent, as well as my own, instils feelings of dread, not piety.
At the same time, I lament that I cannot perform the devotions and penances of my choice. I cannot fast now; while I’ve never exactly enjoyed fasting, I did appreciate joining in the universal fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I cannot spend an hour alone with Jesus in Adoration because I always have at least the baby with me, and usually more. I cannot go to Stations of the Cross when it’s scheduled at the same time I need to put the threenager to bed. (Obviously I can still do those devotions, just not with silence.) Let me be clear that I do not at all resent my children or their demands on my time (truly), as I’ve freely chosen to parent in this way, but I do miss being able to choose to do these devotions and have that holy silence.
Then it hits me – those favourite devotions of mine, that silence that I sometimes crave, they aren’t penances for me. No, they are comfortable, like a favourite pair of jeans. They are my oases, not the desert. I need those oases at times, but for Lent I need to seek the desert.
The question, then, is how to do that at this stage of my life, with my children in the stages they are. Since I can’t have absolute peace and silence, it’s tempting to then use Lent as motivation for self-improvement. I could certainly stand to make some improvements – exercise more, be more patient, be less slothful. In fact, I should make those improvements, just not as the totality of my Lenten sacrifice. After all, Lenten penance shouldn’t be like making New Year’s Resolutions.
Perhaps the point for me is that I need to accept the penances and sacrifices that I have and can do, given my vocation. Perhaps it is the little way of St Thérèse that is required here. I cannot do everything the way I want, but I can make small sacrifices and do little things prayerfully, dying to myself in these little ways. I can accept that I won’t have silence at Adoration but can still attend at times. In these ways I can also teach my children about Lent as they see me sacrifice something meaningful and learn more about the ancient devotions of the Church. I do not know why it’s taken me so long to realize this – maybe it’s because I’m so stubborn (understatement of the year).
Even though it’s started, I still don’t feel completely ready. I am still reluctant to take the steps through the desert. I dislike the myriad discomforts of the sand and sun, the deprivations of Lenten penance. Then again, don’t we all? But ready or not, by the grace of God, I will keep going, leading my children so we may all reach the refreshment and joy of Easter on the other side.