It’s almost Lent and the requisite lists of “things to give up” have been making the rounds on my favourite blogs. I always read those lists, if only to spark my own mind into coming up with something unique – some kind of unusual and challenging punishment to subject myself to for the next 6 weeks. I think to myself, why don’t I give up driving for lent, or beat myself with cords, or go on a juice fast, or pray for 3 hours every day, because what is Lent but the opportunity for Catholics to be creative in their sacrifices, right? And sacrifices have to be FELT to be sacrificial.
But there’s something more profound – something that should go much deeper than beating yourself with cords or drinking juice all day. We human beings wreck just about everything we touch. I’ve been thinking about relationships I’ve had and situations I’ve been in and I’m disheartened by the spectacular number of things I can ruin - just by being me. Even within the smallest of interactions concupiscence, selfishness, pride and vanity, amongst many other sins, show their ugly faces. It’s who I am, rather, who we are and what we know best, just par for the “human” course, I suppose. We’re human beings, therefore and ergo, we mess up our lives and we mess up our relationships.
Yet Lent – and then Easter – could be one of the antidotes to that deep ugliness contained within all of us, if we allow it. Yes, we muddy the very waters we stand in, but we also have the potential to leave traces of exquisite beauty and ethereal grace wherever we go. And we have a say in our own actions, even though it might not be a big one. We can choose to counteract the muddiness with some small, seemingly insignificant token of beauty - anywhere in our lives. And Lent is the perfect time to try.
Catherine Doherty, in the book Nazareth Family Spirituality said:
“…if you give concentration and thoughtfulness to things today, then tomorrow you will give thoughtfulness to people. There is so much beauty in the action [of work] itself, in concentration and in its results. Face it: you are doing little things over and over again – exceedingly well for the love of God. This is going to make you a saint. That is absolutely positive. Don’t seek immense mortifications or self-sacrifice. Seek the daily mortification of doing a thing exceedingly well. Believe you me, you are certainly going to have mortification, I can promise you! You will get so that you will have the heebie-jeebies sometimes just at the thought of dusting the same chair once more. But you’re going to throw them away saying, “This too, Lord, for love for you.” (emphasis mine)
What if, this Lent, instead of swearing ourselves off all food or motorized vehicular transportation, what if we challenged ourselves to do one thing – one teeny, tiny, small thing solely for the love of God or our neighbour. And what if we didn’t just do that one thing, but what if we decided to do it with all the concentration and intentionality that we could afford. What about making sure there’s toilet paper, dusting a loved one’s favourite picture, putting the cap back on the toothpaste and not complaining about it, sweeping up after every meal, scraping off the car every morning or intentionally noticing the things others do for us and saying thank you? There are literally millions of examples of very small, but honestly meaningful, ways we can leave bits of beauty or grace in the paths of those we love. It might not noticed, or it may not be the most glamorous thing to admit to a friend that you’re “putting the cap back on the toothpaste” for Lent, but ask yourself how much it might mean to those around you. And more importantly, ask the Lord how much it means to him - that you not only pour yourself out for others a little bit more, but also that you combat your own selfishness in some small way. Ask him to show you what it means. I have every confidence that he would do so – and I have every confidence that doing that one simple, meager little thing to the best of your abilities will change you for the better. What more could you possibly want out of Lent?