“… the grace of God…teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives… while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)
Last Sunday, we sang the song, “Purify My Heart” at Mass. It’s Lent, and the disciplines of this penitential season which preceeds Easter – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – are the prescribed remedies for purifying the heart – that center of our entire beings.
Prayer is the remedy for pride (because it reminds us of our total dependency on God); fasting helps us acquire self-control over our appetites (instead of habitual over-indulgence); and almsgiving is the antidote for the “disease” of acquisitiveness (wanting more and more “stuff”, wrongly believing that things will bring happiness). The Church recommends these: 1. because Jesus assumed we would do them (see Matthew 6:2-21); and 2. because they correspond to the “…lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life…” (1 John 2:16), those things that rival our dedication to God, and keep us from freely following Jesus as loving, obedient, joyful disciples.
The best plan for Lent is one which is challenging, but not too daunting. We should experience a bit of a “pinch”, but not set ourselves up for outright failure and discouragement. And, of course, we might be only partially successful in fulfilling our best plan, though we ought to try.
For me, the hardest part so far in this year’s Lenten plan has not been the typical fasting and prayer commitments that I’ve made in the past. Instead, my resolution to practice thanking God for the annoyances that come my way, rather than complaining about them and becoming irritable, has been the most challenging. I’m aware that my Divine Teacher in Love School (the Holy Spirit) allows such unwanted circumstances into my life precisely to make me more humble, patient, and merciful, and I am determined to cooperate rather than resist.
I hate these annoyances. When I’m getting things done and feeling very efficient and proud of myself, and then something (or more likely someone) interrupts me, I don’t like it at all. Hardest is a phone call from someone who just loves to talk and who seems oblivious to my saying that I’m in the middle of something. Or when I’m anxiosly awaiting a response to an email or text to confirm some plan or activity and it doesn’t come for days and days – that drives me a little crazy. Dealing with people who are much more casual and laid back about time, communication and planning is hard for me. I definitely need practice responding more mercifully and calmly to them.
What leads to all my frustration? I believe it’s the lack of trust in God’s Providence in my life. That’s the source of it all. Real trust in Him would allow me to rest sweetly and confidently in His goodness being worked out in every circumstance. My heart would then be fully convinced that all is watched over and orchestrated by His wisdom and goodness even, and perhaps most especially, the circumstances I chafe at the most. Such trust would place all my hope in God’s provision for every detail of my life. I would be sure of His generous, merciful, faithful supply of all that I need for my life, moment by moment, rather than feeling like it’s all up to me to control things, or people, or circumstances.
For me, growing in this kind of trust is the most important thing this Lent, for it opens up the possibility of being more genuinely loving toward those around me instead of merely putting up with them. When I succeed in framing life’s annoyances this way in my mind, with God’s grace I am able to set my will to consent to what I really don’t want, I actually can say, “Thank you, Father!”. I can say my “yes” to life and welcome His process even though I dislike it.
Lots more practice is needed, I think. Fortunately, Lent is long, and many more opportunities will arise, I’m sure.