Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Everyday Grace:
Love: a pleasing package for Lent

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the March 16, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell I sent my college son a package containing a book and two boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. When we spoke on the phone nearly a week later I asked if he’d received it. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Thanks, Mom.”

I told him I had feared the package hadn’t arrived, since I hadn’t heard from him. “I’ve been really busy,” he said.

Well, that miffed me. I knew he was busy, but too busy to send a two-word e-mail? That’s hard to believe.

But I asked myself, why are you so upset? Did you send the package just to get an e-mail from him? Well … no. I did it because I love him. Everybody likes getting a package in the mail, right? I wanted to please him. I wanted him to know I was thinking about him. That would be really pathetic, a mother going out to the store and buying candy and a book and wrapping them up and driving to the post office, just to get an e-mail from her son. What mother would do that?

At the Ash Wednesday service we were asked to reflect on what we might do for Lent. As I was thinking about what I could do that might be pleasing to God, this little Valentine’s package incident popped into my head. With the passing of a few more days, my feelings had cooled and I had admitted to myself that, yes, I probably had sent the package partially under false pretenses. That’s not the kind of parent I want to be. Sure, I would like my son to communicate more often and more openly with me. But I also want to accept him for who he is. Real love doesn’t manipulate.

Each Lent we hear the recommendations: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These are the traditional ways of drawing near to God, of preparing for Easter. What suddenly became clearer to me than ever is how dissatisfied God likely feels with my poor attempts based in guilt, fear, obligation or hope of divine approval.

I don’t want my son responding to me in those ways. I want him responding out of love. I want him to send me an e-mail or call on the phone because he wants to. That’s what the Heavenly Parent wants from me, too.

Giving up chocolate because I feel I “should” do something sacrificial for Lent … well, I don’t think God dismisses any of our attempts, but would this be God’s highest hope for me?

Perhaps I can get nearer to understanding God’s hopes for me by reflecting on my hopes for my children. It’s not that I want them to remember every instruction I’ve given them, but, rather, that they would develop their own decision-making and problem-solving skills. My highest hopes for my children are that they would thrive and grow, not to meet my expectations, but according to their own unique potential, that they would attune to the whisper that comes only in the silence of their own stilled heart.

The obedience I want from my children is described by the Latin root of the verb obey, which is ob audire, or “to listen.” I want my children to listen to me, not just with there ears and brains, but with their hearts.  This, too, is what God wants of me.

How can a discipline like fasting, prayer and almsgiving help me listen to God with my heart?

Perhaps giving up a well-liked food can help me become more aware of God’s generous providence. Maybe committing to prayer or meditation each day will help me become more conscious of God’s abiding presence, or deciding to share my time or money with someone in need might open my eyes to the vulnerability I share with those less fortunate. Any of these practices might begin to wear away the strictures of obligation, guilt and fear in my heart and begin to make way for love. I’m talking real love, the kind that sends off a package with no strings attached.

© 2006, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at www.marycronkfarrell.com)


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