Once in a while God graces me with a day where everything connects from rising till sleep. On one such day, my Ugandan student (an NGO manager in Haiti) wrote about his own growth in leadership. He spoke of growing up in a war-torn environment, surrounded by suffering. The impact of scarcity upon his loved ones, the heavy injustices laid upon them by unscrupulous leaders, the joblessness and subsequent hopelessness.
“Having realized that leaders are not actually born but they are developed through rigorous training and experience, I looked at myself in a mirror and said “If God has not put limitation on you, who are you to limit yourself?”.
The third week of Lent begins and the ‘giving up’ may be tougher than planned! Giving up social media, taking on cold showers, perhaps learning to play board games again…hopefully Lent will bring a change in lifestyle that is life-changing. Our lifestyle conditions both our bodies and our psyche to conform to the media, entertainment, technology, food, and whatever else we take in. We instead want our humanity to conform to Christ.
Satan knows this, of course. He will work extra hard to stop you. A saint once asked Jesus why he permitted the enemy to attack her. Jesus responded that it gave opportunity for Him to rescue her.
I recall the decade of the 80’s working long hours, then coming home to sit on the couch watching TV all night. And the gluttony of snacking on just ‘a few’ chips but munching until the dip was gone, too tired to stop. I can also recall what it feels like to rely solely upon my own self-discipline: very limiting.
That was the decade I quit going to mass. I didn’t intend to quit. I just procrastinated each weekend for 11 years or so. But even under the weight of that sinfulness, there was still a little piece of something inside me that said I needed more discipline simply because it was the right thing to do. I hadn’t stopped talking with God; I simply quit visiting Him.
Unforgiveness in our heart is akin to a big sign that says, “demons welcome”. Life trauma can make it very difficult to forgive. The key to forgiveness is this: We must first desire to truly forgive the other person (and not just because others expect us to!). Since all desire comes from God, we must ask for this first until we have let Him fill us with sincerity. He has given us in our own nature the ability to do so intellectually. Typically, then, with His actual Grace we reach some tranquility, some level of forgiving the other person.
That is, until we actually must spend time with them again, and then something triggers the pain. What is forgiveness if it’s so quick to fade away?
When my niece was little, she would spit her chewed up candy into her hand and offer it to me with be biggest smile only outdone by the gleam of joy and excitement in her eyes. She was so sure I would understand how wonderful these are, and she couldn’t keep her joy to herself. It was easy to control my gag reflex because the love driving her desire to share was so all-encompassing! With reflection I realized my heart is mangled like that chewed up candy, and too much of my life has been spent hiding it from God. I finally came to learn that if I offer it to Him with that same purity of intent and desire to love as an innocent child, He responds with great affection.
God doesn’t have a gag reflex; he understands. There is nothing to hide.
Lent is more than a period of atonement for sin. Sincere atonement requires change. People just don’t like change, and the call to holiness is precisely that: change.
Once the desire to change is embraced, it can be difficult to keep our eye on the prize. With the cycle of shame keeping a person convinced of their shortcomings and unworthiness, it is difficult to see themselves for anything other than their faults. We make our brokenness our identity. God desires us to detach from the need to be perfect so that our efforts to reject temptation and overcome weaknesses are ordered towards loving and desiring Him.
As St. Francis of Assisi teaches us, our nothingness is the free space where God creates. This is the simplicity of Lent, making room for God.