Lent is the best time for reflection. It should come as no surprise that humans once regarded the coming of spring as the beginning of a new year. From a liturgical standpoint there are a myriad of reasons why we have settled on winter as the time to celebrate Christ's birth, and why we have left Easter in the spring. These timing issues surrounding our Christian holidays are a subject for another day, however.
Around this time of year we happily look forward to warmer weather, longer days, and the abandonment of certain tasks that only occupy our lives during the colder months. Parents, students and educators get a break from school duties; our volunteer commitments are suspended until after vacation, and our routines become less, well, routine. But before all that, there is Easter. And before that, Lent.
Probably the right way to look at our "new year" is to ask ourselves if anything about ourselves will be new. What things in our lives will be different? What things ought to be different? Can we really let another year go by and remain complacent going through the same old motions?
Change does not come easily. Everything has a price. That is why diets and budgets and all of our best laid plans often fail. Maybe we fail because we have our eyes fixed too firmly on the prize rather than the process. When we dream, we tend to fixate on the benefits of that which we want--the "sizzle" rather than the steak. The fact is, new things and new ways take planning, determination, and perseverance.
In my own case, I have been renovating my home and counting my calories. To say that redecorating six rooms is a major project is an understatement. For months now my family and I have lived under a veil of dust. Workmen are on site almost every day and the hammering and sawing is more than stressful. My pre-made meals come out of little green boxes and I've managed to lose a few pounds. The regimen was hard at first, but is slowly becoming a part of me. I've come to see that I could fashion my own meal plan based on what I have forced myself to eat for the last nine weeks. I now know what a balanced meal in proper proportion should look like. Looking slimmer and feeling better are great motivators besides.
There was a time right after my husband died that I thought it would be a good idea to change the color of my bedding to something purely feminine. In a therapeutic move I yanked off the old coverlet and pillow shams and threw them away. The blue sheets I passed on to my sons. Next I ordered a bedspread and quilt in shades of pink and green. Pink sheets would round out this new motif. Something inside me was saying that I had to let go--let go of the old life and the old things. At the same time I would be lying if I didn't say how painfully sad it was to remake that bed once the covers arrived. More than a few tears were shed with each "hospital corner" as those sheets were put on. But this would be the new me and I forced myself to become that person.
Sometimes the parent in us forces us to do things for our own good. This kind of discipline is never easy, but it is right. Now here's the point of all this: redoing your rooms or going on a diet can the challenging, but on the difficulty scale these are still a step below the process of renewing one's inner self. Consider that I have been studying the official Catholic Catechism with my church group for four years already. I recently came to the shocking realization that the "holiness" bar is set pretty high. Daunted and overwhelmed I thought, "God asks all these things! I'll never make it! I just can't be that person!" It's like realizing you need to lose 50 pounds instead of 20 or like when your carpenter tells you that your new closet will cost way more than you planned, only worse. This is your everlasting soul on the line and there is no time for frivolity.
For weeks I struggled with a lack of confidence over this question of renewal. "Just repent and resolve to change. God's mercy is his gift to those who keep his word," I would tell myself. At the same time I would think, "Humility? Meekness? Patience? This is a pretty tall order, and I don't even know where to start. I'm just a crumb!" But God has a way of speaking to us whenever we ask him for help. Suddenly phrases started filling my head like, "Who am I that my Lord should come to me?" And, "I will to do your will." The fact is, if the prospect of the renewal of one's soul seems frightening, you and I are not the first ones to contemplate it.
As silly as this sounds, the process of self-renewal is not unlike a renovation project. On our kitchen table we keep a binder with the "Project Plan" whose sheets are held in plastic protectors. Each page has headings for "Project Name," "Assigned To," "Materials Needed," and "Prerequisites." In "Living Room Flooring," for example, the prerequisites listed are, "move, donate, or discard furniture; deinstall carpeting; remove baseboards, repair and paint walls." Moving up the list each prerequisite is a project in itself with workers and materials listed for each of those. Doing a project correctly takes organization, determination, ability to handle adversity, teamwork, and the willingness to go without things for a while.
So what does a "holiness" project look like? Is there determination there? ("You have to want it," my priest says.) Can you handle adversity, (i.e., sacrifice)? Can you be Jesus to other people and let God be project superintendent (teamwork)? If there is a "yes" in there somewhere you may be ready for a rebuilding project of your own. Most important is to trust in faith and not lose hope. Do not doubt that all things are possible once placed in God's hands. Remember what beauty there is in hope. Recall the poet Emily Dickinson who wrote,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
You will soon begin to experience days when the hope of God comes to rest in your soul; when you know that your "project" is in the right hands. I will leave you with a favorite scripture passage which I think says it all. God bless and have a faith-filled week.
"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God, Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." -- Philippians 4:6-7.