As I prepared myself for the next introspective soul searching that marches in during this year’s upcoming Lent, I wanted to share my lessons learned from 2018. Or, more honestly, lessons I should have learned. Sometimes I feel sorry for God. If only I were not so obtuse…
Last year I signed up for Dynamic Catholic’s “Best Lent Ever” emails, which suggested journaling. As I type this, the black leather-bound book is sitting open on the airplane tray table to my right. I know what you are thinking–how did I get a flight that was not purposely overbooked? Divine intervention. But seriously, I have this journal open and my heart is beating up a storm. I just read the words, “This Lent, I am examining why I feel joyless—angry even.” Aren’t those some uplifting words?
Let me take you back to Day One of Lent 2018. I was six months postpartum, desperately working to get my waist from 38 inches to at least 32 inches. As a female in the military, I can get fired and lose my job if my waist is larger than 34 inches by the time my annual physical fitness test rolls around. No pressure, right? Combine that with my husband deployed for the fifth time, a new sexual assault victim advocacy role, three kids five and under (none in school, of course), 19 hours of Alaskan darkness, and apparently, deep-seated anger issues.
Day Three of Lent was a list of all my worries. Looks like I ran out of room and went to page two with the laundry list of everything bothering me. The twist to day three’s journaling was to list the beauty in my life, which was a real struggle. During that moment, I turned off my go-to program, “Forensic Files,” and turned on “Joy of Painting” by Bob Ross. It may seem like a small thing, but someone told me the little things in life prepare us for accomplishing the rare, extraordinary thing that comes our way. I was told progress is cumulative, so do a little each day. My Catholic sponsor also reminded me, “Garbage in–garbage out.” Who and what we surround ourselves with is who and what we become.
Rounding out Day Seven of Lent, I saw a tiny note scribbled in the margin: “Progress, not perfection.” I know I am not alone in feeling like I am a failure if life is not perfectly balanced. At this point in Lent, it was clear to me the four basic pillars–spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual–had violently collapsed. The realization of this failure hit me hard. I rallied back to the Cross.
I began the Dynamic Catholic seven-step prayer process each morning: (1) Gratitude: Thank God for what you are most grateful for today, (2) Awareness: Revisit the times in the past 24 hours when you were/were not the greatest version of yourself; talk to God about what you learned, (3) Significant Moments: Identify something in the past 24 hours and explore what God might be saying to you through that person or event, (4) Peace: Ask God to forgive any wrongs you have committed and fill you with peace, (5) Freedom: Speak with God about how He is inviting you to change your life, so you can experience the freedom to be the best version of yourself, (6) Others: Pray for anyone you feel called to pray for; ask God to bless and guide him or her, and (7) Pray the Our Father.
Fast forward to nearly one year later. Honestly, I do not hit all seven steps every time I pray. Prior to my three kids waking, I aim to spend 45 minutes talking with God. Most of the time, I end up with only 10 minutes because my kids seem to have a master plan to thwart any alone time I might have envisioned. Isn’t that life as a mom? So I have improvised. Before I get out of bed, I grab the decade rosary I keep under my pillow. I practice the Nicene Creed (I only have a quarter of it memorized), and pray the Our Father and a Hail Mary. Then I pray motivation to get up. Next, as I am putting make-up on, I read a Catholic quote-of-the-day. If the quote doesn’t speak to me, I listen to 10 minutes of a Catholic podcast.
When I hear the pitter patter of little feet, I start the morning routine. I go into my daughters’ room where I have a blessed Crucifix hanging and a Miraculous Medal. I bow, cross my arms for a blessing, and place a kiss on Jesus’ face with my fingers. I glance to the calendar in the kids’ room. Every day or so I write in a new name of someone who needs prayer. I touch the Miraculous Medal and pray a novena for those people. Then I bow and thank God for creating me. I tell Jesus I love him and ask Mary to pray for me.
In the quiet moments after I drop off all the kids to school and daycare, I think about what I did great and not-so-great the day before. I pray for courage and humility. I ask for signs. As my day unfolds, I stop and pray when I feel my composure slipping or my ego cropping up. At 3:00 p.m., I pray a Hail Mary and Our Father in unity with a Catholic Facebook group. Our prayers join together as our collective spirit asks for the healing of the Catholic Church, justice for those who have abused others, and accountability for their abusers.
Finally, at bedtime, I pray. I reach under my pillow for the decade rosary. When I get to the Hail Mary beads, my mind brings forward an image of a person that needs prayer. This week it was for the souls of a 97 year-old grandmother of a friend, a 22 year-old military service member who died of suicide, and 40-year-old friend who died of a rare cancer and left a family behind. I see each of their faces, one for every bead. Visualization is powerful and I can feel my soul merging with those in the next world.
In the end, my Lent Lessons from 2018 translated into new ways of prayer for me. While the journaling approach seemed daunting, I am glad I did it. There is now a tangible, physical testament of who I was and what I have become. I encourage you to use this upcoming Lent to change one thing about yourself. Shine a flashlight into a dark corner. Have a serious conversation with you and God.