I listened to Matthew 6 at the beginning of Lent, as I do every year. This Gospel reading on Ash Wednesday reminds us how to pray, fast, and give alms. It’s one that I remember from my childhood and going to Catholic school. Of course, as I get older, I pay more attention to the readings, and the readings hit home a little more every year. I know I’m still kind of young, but as I turned 25 at the beginning of this Lent, I gained a little more wisdom about these 40 days.
In Matthew 6, Jesus says when you pray, when you fast, when you give alms. We’re obligated, not suggested, to uphold these three practices. The thing is, we’re supposed to pray, fast, and give alms year-round, not just during Lent. The season of Lent is an opportunity to take our faith a step further by deepening our devotion to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
This is one of those truths that I always knew, but it didn’t really sink in until this year. Lent is a marathon, not a sprint.
If my prayer life is nonexistent during the rest of the year, I’ll struggle with prayer during Lent. If I don’t fast during the rest of the year, I’ll complain the whole time when Lent comes along. If I never give of my time, talent, and treasure during the rest of the year, I’ll make excuses and get out of doing so during Lent. This is why during Lent, my prayer has always been great, my fasting has always stunk, and my almsgiving has always been so-so.
If you’ve known me for a while, you probably know that I’ve done Fiat 40, Fiat 90, and Fiat 40 again. I never finished Fiat strong. The first time I attempted Fiat, I complained the whole time. I complained about everything that I had to give up and about the extra things that I had to take on. The second and third times, I slowly gave up. Programs like these aren’t for everyone, so it’s possible that Fiat just isn’t for me, but now I think I realize why Fiat never worked out for me. I never fast throughout the year, so when the time came for intense fasting, I couldn’t do it. I went into Fiat attached to things, and I couldn’t detach myself.
God knew this about myself, and He helped me realize it by giving me a long, challenging season of life. For almost a year, my faith journey has been quite Lenten, so I realized that I had been living Lent prior to the 40 days.
I’ve experienced my fair share of desolation, which I’ve been through before, so I know that this will pass. A certain prayer request that God hasn’t answered yet (at least not in the way that I had hoped) has made me discouraged. As difficult as “praying without ceasing” can be, that’s exactly what I’m doing. He changed my heart to pray for what He wants for my life instead of what I want.
Along with prayer, God deepened my understanding of fasting and almsgiving. Nathan and I are going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this summer, so we’ve been both saving and fundraising to cover the cost of the trip. We’ve been blessed to experience the generosity of friends, family, and members of our parish, so we got to experience the humble joy of being on the receiving end of someone else’s almsgiving. We’ve also cut way back on spending and expenses. We changed our internet plan, and I can’t remember the last time we ordered dinner.
We’ve been fasting from several things in several different ways. Working with a smaller budget for the last several months has been difficult. It reminded me of when I spent a year of service in Washington DC and lived on a small stipend. I didn’t mind returning to this way of living simply. At the same time, it wasn’t always pleasant.
Looking back, this was one of the many ways that God was teaching me and Nathan how to rely on Him and allow Him to make a way. As I write this blog, I’m reminded of how Jesus taught His disciples to store up their treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Nathan and I have been saving our treasures so that we can encounter God on a pilgrimage instead of spending them on our own desires. We’re looking forward to experiencing Him in the places where He walked and talked, and that will be more valuable than a bigger grocery budget or new decorations for our home.
This year, thanks to the Holy Spirit’s gentleness with me, I planned to have simple Lent. It went fairly well, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself appreciating the liturgical season of Lent.
My Lenten plans included:
~ Praying the 54 day Rosary Novena with my husband. We started before Lent began so that we would finish on Holy Saturday.
~ Fasting from my phone by using it intentionally instead of scrolling endlessly. I didn’t want to give up social media completely, so I decided to give it up on Fridays during Lent.
~ Giving alms by writing letters to my friends. Nathan and I don’t have a ton of extra money for almsgiving at the moment, so I gave of my time and talent by writing beautiful letters that would bring a little joy to my friends. I averaged about one letter each week of Lent.
This Lent has taught me to see beyond Lent into the rest of the year and into next Lent. I learned that I need to intentionally pray, fast, and give alms throughout the year if I’m going to have a fruitful Lent. When Lent is over and when Easter is over (because Easter is a season of feasting and celebrating) I’ll find small ways to pray, fast, and give alms in preparation for next Lent.
In my life, I’m constantly reminded of St. Teresa of Calcutta and something that she said near the end of her life. “God doesn’t call me to be successful. He calls me to be faithful.” Praying, fasting, and almsgiving well might feel satisfying, but doing so doesn’t necessarily make for a “successful” Lent. I’ve found that to have a fruitful Lent, I have to discern the things that I can realistically do and do them with love.
Because God allowed me to enter into a spiritual Lent several months ago, I have a renewed appreciation for this liturgical season. Being in the desert for the last 40 days was nothing new to me. He lovingly reminded me that I should seek to grow in detachment year-round, not just during Lent. He blessed me with deeper experiences of relying on Him and learning to seek Him first.
I hope that this season of Lent was fruitful for you too, and I hope that you have a blessed Easter season.
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