Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Everyday Grace: A prayer practice for Lent
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Feb. 26, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
I revel in the sunshine and blue sky after days of dreary gray. I want to dance in the bold streaks of sunlight that break into the room. My heart wants Easter, not Lent.
I also delight in a rare moment of family life when all is calm. No squalls appear on the horizon. Each child has found equilibrium. They finish homework and chores without complaint or my nagging. Bickering levels are low. We’ve been enjoying each other’s company playing Skip-Bo and Ping-Pong.
Years ago I strived for this state, thinking a family could arrive and anchor here. Now I’ve learned life doesn’t stay on an even keel for long. The ship is sure to rock, probably sooner than later. I’m also learning to relax and enjoy the balmy weather rather than fearing it won’t last, or fretting about how long ’til it changes.
But still, I’d rather stay here. I’d rather enjoy the good times than focus on the difficult. Just as without Lent, without Christ’s passion and death, there would be no Easter, without challenges in family life, there would be no cooperative, competent children.
Too often Lent gets a bad rap. Similar to the way we Americans sometimes shun the virtue of humility. We confuse being humble with being a door mat, rather than understanding humility as honest acceptance of both our limitations and our gifts. We see Lent as a time to focus on our sins and Jesus’ suffering, rather than an opportunity to grow in our understanding of the God’s unconditional love for us.
The church season of Lent includes the 40 days before Easter beginning Ash Wednesday and excluding Sundays. In Biblical language “40” implies a significant amount of time. The number is like a road sign saying “pay attention” – something important is about to happen. For example, Biblical writers say Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, and the Israelites wandered 40 years before arriving in the Promised Land.
Lent points us to Easter. We may choose to spend more time in prayer, to give up sweets or television, to practice the discipline of controlling our anger, or doing kind deeds. It may be difficult to do these things if we concentrate on depriving ourselves “for our own good”, making up for our sins, or out of obligation. Jesus came with Good News, not with burdens for us to bear.
Often the “dying” of Lent takes precedence over the “rising” expected at Easter. Practicing true humility can help us keep these two in proportion.
Coming before God in prayer we admit our sins. But more importantly, we acknowledge God’s love for us and our being made in God’s image. God’s love for us is the same whether we are sinning or on our knees in repentance.
The difficulty for most of us is not that we are not sorry for our sins, it is that we do not understand how love-able we are.
Here’s one prayer practice for Lent that can nurture true humility. It’s a simplified version of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Examen. You can do it alone, with a child, or together as a family. It requires only a few quiet minutes at the end of the day.
Reflect on your day and choose a time when you felt happy, connected with others, or simply aware of God’s presence. Also identify a time in your day when you experienced bad feelings or felt distant from God. Do not judge these moments; simply bring them to mind and then let them go.
The benefits of the Examen come from making it an everyday discipline over time. This simple, but powerful habit will lead to greater awareness of God’s loving presence in our lives, as well as to areas where growth is needed. Undertake this exercise with a spirit of hope and discovery, seeking self-awareness before a loving God.
If your heart longs for Easter, find it this Lent by taking delight in your own loveableness, in the good of your children, and in each moment of calm without fear the boat may soon start taking on water.
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)