I watched from a respectful distance, tears pooling in my eyes as the ritual unfolded. Into the box went all the contents of her desk, all the pictures that inspired her, all the instruments that brought her craft to life. A respected journalist, a seasoned author, a gifted observer of life, she was leaving this job because she was caught in a wave of layoffs that seemed to sweep away the veterans in favor of young, but agile, purveyors of digital thought. Please read the rest here.
The sun shone and the temperature crept towards 80; I went down to the creek to take a walk. I felt my soul stir, my senses coming alive. Bluebells were in full bloom; their bright colors shouted spring’s glory song. The air smelled like the earth was coming to life.
To think I almost missed it.
I’d looked at my to-do list, wrestling with my desire to draw clean lines through all the items and sigh with satisfaction over conquering the tasks and claiming control. For a few moments, I considered staying home and putting my world in perfect order. Please read the rest here.
Lent, which seemed so long in the dark days of early March, is drawing swiftly to a close. As we enter into the liturgy of Holy Week, we are called to weep in community, and then to rejoice with one glorious voice. Palm Sunday is a moment of beautiful liturgical significance. It’s also the Mass most likely to find mothers and children in tears. Combine the longest Gospel of the year in a crowded pew full of children with spear-shaped branches that are wickedly sharp, and, well, good luck to you.
In all seriousness, and with reverence for the solemn celebration, remember our Lord weeps with you. He knows the struggle to gather these children into suitable clothes and buckle them into car seats, and to try to teach them well how to behave in the constraints of the pew. He sees you suffer as you endeavor to bow your head to pray only to be distracted by an errant palm. He knows the tears that gather in the corner of your eyes as the man behind you glares disapprovingly and you feel, yet again, as if you are failing in this most beautiful and important duty. Jesus weeps, too. Please read the rest here.
Lent is a marathon. I think that we often get to the third week or so and start to recognize that it’s a marathon, but that we approached it from the beginning as if it were a sprint. We set lofty goals and we went after them with great ardor. And now, we’re spent. Our resolutions are looking a little rough around the edges. We’re discouraged because we’re not making the spiritual progress we’d hoped to make, but the calendar is marching onward towards Easter. The battle for Lent is being waged in our heads — that’s where most marathons are finished, or not.
In an effort to throw off the trappings of the world and to put on the love of Christ, we have to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). Renewal is an ongoing, lifelong process. God wants us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we know and act upon His will for our lives. Did your “Lent list” look like a to-do and “to-don’t” list? It’s helpful to stop now, at roughly the midpoint, and remind ourselves that Lent is not about the checklist. The checklist is the training plan for the marathon. Lent is about transformation. It’s about transfiguration. It’s about becoming more and more like Christ. It’s about uniting our hearts and souls with Him in order to shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father (Matthew 13:43).
We resolved to get up earlier to do some spiritual reading every day. But around the end of the second week of Lent, winter returned with a vengeance and Daylight Savings Time kicked in, and we stayed under the covers first one day, and then the next. Four days later, we’ve given up on our “something extra” because now it’s a lost cause.
No it’s not. You lost four training days. That’s not the end. Pick up where you left off. The renewal of your mind is a lifelong process; you will keep renewing until you breathe your last breath. Every day, we have the opportunity to begin again. Every day, we are given the opportunity to ask for the fruits of the spirit —love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — in order to help us finish the marathon. Think of them as the Gatorade stations along the way. Replenish. Refill. Begin again. Ask Him.
The point of the marathon isn’t to collect the medal at the end, to check the distance off on your daily running calendar (though that no doubt would be very satisfying). The point is to become a runner. The point isn’t to become a Lenten ninja, able to leap out of bed in the still dark morning in a single bound. The point is to become more like God. Learning to leap out of bed is the means to making your heart more like His.
And it requires His help.
Struggling with Lenten discipline isn’t failure. It’s opportunity. Every time we struggle, we get to ask for fruits of the spirit. Every time we ask, and He answers, we see the boundless generosity of God. And every time we take the fruits and use them for His glory, we are a few steps further in the marathon of our lives.
The first few days of Lent always find me singing to my children. With every whimper and complaint, I belt out the tune to which we’ve memorized Galatians 5:22-23. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I put particular emphasis on “self-control.”
The practice of denying ourselves willingly through our Lenten sacrifices is one that calls for self-control. Lent is a good time for self-control awareness, for strengthening our exercise of self-control, because Jesus reminds us that “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Everyday life calls for self-control. We will be called to take up our crosses daily and actually carry them. Lent is the perfect time to do the real work of planting the seeds that will bear such fruit of the Spirit.
I also find myself saying, “Buck up, cowboy” quite a bit. It’s not a particularly pious saying, but it’s definitely part of our family vernacular, especially when one wants a cheeseburger on Ash Wednesday. It implies effort. Children need to learn how to exert effort.
Truly, we all need to learn how to exert effort better — more cheerfully, more graciously and with more generosity. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, but we can’t just sit under the tree and wait for it to fall on our heads. Our self-control isn’t ours, it’s of the Lord, but He calls us insistently to cultivate it.
St. Paul offers a metaphor that works quite well in my family of athletes. He reminds us that “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:25-27).
Self-control is given to the athlete by the Spirit, but the athlete exerts his will to exercise it. We are to be active in cultivating virtuous habits.
We have to practice virtue in a disciplined manner in order to accept the fruits of the Spirit and use them to live a life alive with faith. God respects our freedom. He’s ready and waiting with sufficient grace for whatever Lenten resolutions we’ve made according to His will, but He wants us to ask for it and to cooperate with it. God desires nothing more than for His Spirit to bear fruit in our souls — not just the fruit of self-control, but all the fruits.
He calls us to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit by faith and to actively live it out. When we do, we see that the Father cares enough to conform us into the image and likeness of God. Cooperating with that grace, we live and breathe in Him, with the blossoming fruits of the Spirit expressed increasingly as we grow closer to our Creator. We are each called in our unique ways to bear this fruit in the world, manifesting the character of Christ with our own lives.
Lent is a gift. If we let Him, God will allow us the grace we need to remove the obstacles between us, to strengthen our response to His fruits in our lives. When we ask and ask again for His grace and strength to keep our commitments and to flex the muscles of self-control, He’s there in the struggle. Often, we find that over the course of the season, He changes us. Our wills conform to His. No longer do we desire the things we did when Lent began. Instead, we desire something better, and Easter bears witness to the fruits of His Spirit flourishing in the garden of our souls.
We can be victorious.
Lent is a long season. We have time to amend our ways, to change our lives, to truly turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. Spend a bit of time in this week before it begins to lay the foundation of a most fruitful Lent. Here are some things to consider as you ponder how to become more and more like Him.