For the month leading up to Ash Wednesday, I was really feeling the Lenten pressure.
What should I give up that will be meaningful, yet do-able? How can I get creative in my Lenten sacrifice? What is an area of my life that might be begging attention this Lenten season?
These questions bounced around in my head for two weeks prior to A-day, and when I finally decided to give up Starbucks for Lent, it was Thursday afternoon (post-ashes) and I’d already technically broken my sacrifice (I had Starbucks that morning).
Off to a bad start, my commitment to nixing Starbucks for 40 days felt half-assed (sorry for swearing on the internet, mom). My heart just wasn’t really in it. For about a week, I managed to avoid my daily latte and Kind bar and additionally carried around a nagging feeling that I wasn’t giving Lent my all.
Then, I caved. If lackluster Catholicism had a flavor, it would be that of hot, frothy milk and espresso.
I’m sure right now, you’re thinking some things. Mary Kate, you’re making such a big deal out of this. Chill out and just don’t go back to Starbucks again until Easter. What’s the big deal?
Technically it’s not a big deal – but where I’m feeling conflicted is not so much in that I broke my Lenten promise, but that I was never really invested in fulfilling that promise to begin with. Going in, I felt obligated to ‘quit’ something until Easter – and here we are, two and a half weeks later, I’ve failed – and somewhat guiltlessly, at that.
Is guiltlessly a word? Spellcheck says no but I’m using it anyway. You get the point.
So in the midst of my lukewarmness, I turned – as I often do – to my spiritual bestie, Fr. Mike Schmitz. He (via his podcast) had a suggestion to make – ask God what He’s asking of you this Lent.
…Not quite the groundbreaking answer I was looking for, but like a good Catholic, I took it to prayer.
Then earlier this week, I picked up two books at Barnes & Noble – one of which was Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, for no reason in particular other than I was browsing and it jumped out at me.
Well, God works in funny ways.
About halfway through the book, I came to the definition of temperance.
One of the cardinal virtues, temperance seems to be the one I most lack (if you regularly follow my blog, you’ll see I’m consistent). In layman’s terms, temperance is the virtue by which we do all things in moderation – nothing in excess (essentially, self-restraint & self-discipline). Temperance is not my strong suit – rather, it’s a very weak point in my life, and one that I battle with constantly.
Then, I came to this excerpt:
“Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us?
We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think.”
Now I’ve found myself back at that same place I was a few weeks ago when I wrote my blog post about crashing my car, which I linked to above – and that’s that I cannot do anything without first asking God for the strength to do it. And now, I see this need for temperance spilling over into another area of my life – my ability to fulfill my Lenten promise.
So this Lent, I’m trying to maintain tradition while simultaneously working to tackle that weak part of me that makes it difficult to do so. As I’m continuously made aware of this theme in my life, the call from God to ask for the grace to overcome it grows louder. The fear that I was neglecting Lent has now subsided, but has been replaced by the nagging feeling that I need to do more to gain temperance.
Of course, as we’ve learned, Step 1 is asking God for the strength to do so. Step 2 is exercising that self-discipline muscle and actually doing it.