Monday, March 02, 2009
Boasting of Weakness
It happens every Lent.
I can honestly say that, as an adult, I've never had a "successful" Lent. That is, if you define it by seriously abstaining from a chosen thing and never looking at it again until it's over...and bonus points if you do what's intended and not fall back into slavery to it.
As a child, we HAD to give up candy, and since we had no money, of course, since it wasn't there, we "gave it up".
As an adult, I don't give up candy, because I don't eat a lot of it and really, it wouldn't be difficult to give that up. However, if I'm, say, in the line at the grocery store and a certain kind of chocolate looks good, I will remember that it's Lent and I'll decide against the impulse buy. And this is a practice I learned DURING Lent one year and have carried on. I think one could consider that a success.
A few years ago, I brought a certain issue into Confession, and said that I was absolutely giving it up entirely for Lent. The priest cautioned me not to do anything too difficult; not because it wasn't a sinful issue in my life, but because, as he said, success was a necessary part of our penances. He saw something in me that does need to be addressed...the legalistic aspect. The black-and-white, which is SOMETIMES proper, but other times...damaging. If we try to give up something, and fail, sometimes the temptation is so great we decide it's not worth it, and without some kind of success, it is our human nature to fall away.
He recommended regaining control, focusing on the root of the issue, but not doing something that in the end, defeats the purpose of Lenten privations and penances.
I've come to appreciate that advice, although at the time I questioned it. Yet, we DO have to look at our lives and work on gaining control over the flesh, not returning to sinful activities. If what we do is sinful, yes, we need to put it away from us. But if we are giving up a legitimate good, then what? We need to know balance, not scrupulosity. If we give up chocolate, does that mean we can never have it again?
Seriously, people...I'm a woman. Giving up chocolate permanently is a recipe for disaster!
As it turns out, this year, for me, is no different than previous years. I've already failed in one of my chosen penances, and no, it's not the end, and no, I'm not worried. Rather, I'm remembering the advice I've been given, and realizing that God is working through my weakness to make an even more important point. One which I need to take to heart.
Each year, I fail in my chosen penance, and get up, repeatedly, trying again. But what really strikes me is that as I try one thing, all sorts of OTHER issues rise to the surface. Once I realize how weak I am in one area, I tend to recognize how weak I am in others, and overall...how much I NEED a Savior because I can't overcome my own sinful nature.
Lent isn't about just focusing on one problem that we have, or just throwing a dart and picking something to give up. It's about conversion. It's about recognizing who we really are in the face of God, seeing our abject poverty, how we wallow in our sin and justify it by our pride. It's about looking into the loving, uncondeming gaze of Christ, and in that holy visage understanding our true dignity as adopted children of God.
I'm grateful for Lent because even attempting the fasts and penances forces me to see myself as I really am, and I need that shattered, twisted image. I need to see that, for if I did not, I would be lost forever.
In the end of these 40 days, we hopefully will have been given this great gift of self-knowledge so that we can better appreciate the very personal sacrifice Christ has made on our behalf.
The ONLY way we can approach the throne of Mercy is through our weaknesses, through honesty in our weakness, and recognizing that those weaknesses are what draw us to Our Lord. The ONLY way we can come to the foot of the Cross is through knowing our sins, and recognizing that Jesus personally suffered for them.
The ONLY way we can get to Heaven is through Jesus Christ, through His blood, through His death and resurrection.
And if we don't experience Lent, then we don't understand what the rest of it means.
Let us all know the suffering that brings us to the Resurrection.