A quick thank you to Katie from Kitchen Stewardship who invited me to participate in this series of Lenten reflections. Without her prompt, I may not have actively discerned God's will for me before my time in the desert actually began!
As a recovering perfectionist, I’m hesitant to share my Lenten observances publicly. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, an expert in how to be a good Catholic during Lent (or anytime for that matter). Though I love both the feasting and the fasting we observe as Catholics throughout the liturgical year, I tend to compulsively ruminate about whether or not I’m living each particular season ‘well’. What if I’m unable to fulfill my resolutions? What if what I offer up isn’t as grand as another’s approach? How do I know if I’m truly walking the way of the Cross with Jesus?
I always desire to give up something heroic, something that’s a challenge for me but also a great conduit of grace. In the past, my husband and I have unplugged the TV and radio, we’ve fasted from favorite foods and drinks, and we have adopted other penitential sacrifices to aid us in walking the forty days in the desert. As we usher in the glorious Easter season, I inevitably wonder if I’ve done enough, sacrificed enough, and of course, prayed enough. According to my standards, the answer is usually ‘No’.
God, however, is slowly showing me He is very much pleased with my small efforts to love Him. Bishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan writes, “God rejoices in our little sacrifices like a father who asks a child to share her candy. At first the child withdraws her hand and refuses to share, but on the father’s insistence the little child, feeling very sorry, puts out her hand, gradually opens it, and gives some of her candy. Overjoyed, the father kisses the child for her generosity and for conquering her selfishness—and then gives the child even more.”
Oh, how I am like the little child with her Father! I know what He calls me to but I close tight my fist to what He asks because it’s hard. Then, after some time, I slowly, begrudgingly give Him what He wants and He loves me all the more—despite my initial reticence.
I’m currently in the first trimester of pregnancy with my fifth child. This is not the first time I’ve lived a season or two of Lent in the throws of nausea and discomfort induced by childbearing. I’ve been living my Lenten penance for the last few weeks, actually. Food is not appealing to me. Sleep is constantly on my mind. And snippiness with those around me? Well, I wish I could say it was a fleeting fad but these days it’s more like a perfected habit. As I have been reflecting about Lent, God has showed me it’s not so much my sacrifices he desires, but my joy.
The thing is, right now, Christ knows I’m suffering. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about having another child at this particular moment in time. My oldest is barely six years of age. I’m unsure of the added responsibility, I’m worried about our financial future, and I’m concerned about meeting the emotional needs of each of the children currently under our roof.
To add insult to injury, I’m not one of these ‘I never feel better than when I’m pregnant’ women. On the contrary, I don’t like being pregnant (though I’m very grateful for the end result). My type A, get-it-done personality takes a serious bruising every time He calls me to bring forth new life. Though I see the forty weeks of gestation as Christ’s personal prescription for me to ‘chill out’—this is also very much a penance. Additionally, taking care of the needs of my husband and my children is an added challenge when I.just.don’t.feel.good.
So this Lent instead of sacrificing (I’m thinking I’ve got that covered right now), I’m going to focus on living joyfully. The scriptures say, “Instead, rejoice in so far as you are sharing in Christ’s suffering, so that when his glory is revealed you may rejoice and exalt (1 Pet. 4:13).”
Suffering and happiness can’t be separated. Look at the Beatitudes—‘Blessed are the poor; blessed are those who weep; blessed are those who suffer.’ The scriptures tell us those who are happiest are those who carry crosses. Right now, my cross is hand-carved by Christ Himself. He knows I’m struggling but He also knows the great merit earned by the difficult journey—the glory of heaven awaits me plus a beautiful bundle of baby! Look at Christ—His suffering led to the Resurrection. Look at Mother Mary! Jesus loved her more than anything yet He still endowed her with the title ‘Queen of Martyrs’. Mary suffered but her reward, her joy, was great.
In I Believe In Love, Father d’Elbee says, “Sanctify yourself with the duties of your state in life, your daily life with all its thorns. Accept all the duties, all the responsibility, with a smile on your lips, a willing smile-a smile that is willed. The most beautiful smiles are those, which shine through tears that we give in spite of ourselves.
Accept the unexpected crosses—they are the most painful: the sickness which immobilizes you, the feeling of being useless and a burden to others, of knowing that while you are needed you are being prevented from doing what you ought to do….Put up with yourself, with your thousand physical, intellectual, and moral miseries. Accept without complaint the anguish willed by God…”
So if it’s a smile He wants, it’s a smile I pray for the grace to give. Though I’m imperfect, I definitely don’t want to waste Christ’s invitation to me to embrace suffering willingly. It’s going to be hard because it’s something I don’t really want to give.
But it’s exactly the thing He wants.