Go Big or Go Home…a guide to avoiding crash and burn during Lent

First of all, this is not a post meant to give advice on various activities to enhance or stress you out, alternately, during Lent. There are lots of posts all over the internet for that. But not this one.

Second: what are you giving up? Along with my good friends Christie and Elisa, I am giving up facebook for lent this year. I will still be blogging (full disclosure, my blog does syndicate to facebook and that will continue, but I will not be logging in and put up pics, statuses or comment on statuses, I will, however, honor friends and family birthdays here so people will know I am thinking about and praying for them) and checking email. I will still listen to Pandora, but I will be avoiding my favorite time waster.

In choosing what I was going to give up, I wanted to choose something that would definitely be a sacrifice but something I could also live without. Often people set themselves up for failure by choosing something that will be a sacrifice and also detrimental to themselves. Like the friend of mine who gave up all internet interactions while failing to remember her home business relied heavily on her website and clients being able to contact her via email. She had an out of office message to anyone who might be contacting her that way advising to call her, but she lost a lot of business because people either didn’t get her out of office message (because it is automated some systems sent it to junk mail or quanrantined it) and others were completely irritated. Other friends of mine have made similar choices…the one who gave up ALL tv and videos and walked out of a college lecture in which a film was being shown, for example, and questions on the film ended up being pop quiz the next day, etc. We all believe strongly in what we are doing, but these fasts are not supposed to be designed to cause harm either.

Another sure fire way to fail in fasting is to give up too many things. I’ve told this story before and I’ll tell it again today. One year at Ash Wednesday mass, my priest told us that giving up too much is a surefire road to failure and to remember that Lent is only six weeks, a very short time to try to make any kind of major life-altering change. Changes can certainly be started on this journey, just don’t expect to complete them. If you want to start saying a daily Rosary, great. You want to incorporate daily mass, excellent. You want to start waking every morning at 3 am to say the Chaplet of Diving Mercy, go for it. Trying to do all 3 plus any number of other things is going to be hard. Really hard. And more often than not, you will find yourself upset and frustrated because you slept through your alarm and missed the Chaplet or got stuck on the other side of town and missed Mass. Picking one thing to conciously focus in on will reduce the feeling of being pulled in many directions.

Third on my list: Do not forget, Lent is not only about fasting, but feast as well. How will you feast? What will you add for something you subtract. What will you do on Sundays to “break” your fast? A local priest who gave up television a few years ago watched videos on Sundays choosing a variety of value based films he otherwise would not have found the time to watch. How will you seek joy during Lent?

Next: How are you preparing for Easter? Many of us become so wrapped up in Lent, in fasting, prayer and almsgiving (which we should be focused on primarily) that we fail to prepare our hearts, minds and souls for the celebration of Easter. Try to ensure each day, each  prayer, each small sacrifice is a step towards the celebration of the risen Christ, not so much an event unto itself.

Remember the words of Christ in the Gospel for this Ash Wednesday:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“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.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

You do not need to feel inferior when you read anothers blog post about how much they have given up or how many Lenten crafts their children are doing, know that God sees what you are doing and appreciates your gift, no matter how small or humble. Think of the widow putting her two coins in the collection plate. Think (and Simcha, I’m ducking from whatever you are throwing at me from NH) of the Little Drummer Boy who had “no gifts” so he played his drum. God is not looking at the outward appearance of your sacrifice, He is also looking into the heart that offered it.

May God Bless you and keep you this Lenten season.