DECLARE A FAST with abstinence, add a little almsgiving and don’t forget prayer. But wait! “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” God asks in Isaiah 58:5b.
You mean all those years of salmon patties, fish sticks and scrambled eggs for supper don’t count? What’s wrong with Lent as 40 days of endurance without any real change in our hearts? How can we change course and find a deeper faith this Lent?
We Catholics and other Christians have long put on spiritual ashes to renew our faith and turn back to God wholeheartedly. Yet, our traditional pillars of Lenten practice need to be regularly revisited and tweaked. We may need to leave our comfort zone and make them a genuine spiritual workout. For Lent to really matter, we must take a hard look at the state of our spirits. Then we can respond in a way that establishes deeper connections with God, our families—and even our selves. Lent is not enduring a virtual board game, that is, arriving at Easter with our “giveup” list intact. Lent means moving closer to the holy way.
Statements such as “I always give up candy for Lent” or “I never miss daily Mass during Lent” are a great beginning. The same practices that we have used for 20 years, however, may no longer serve their original purpose. Comfortable with the routine, we may fashion a fairly cozy desert trip. Don’t we need a Lent with more personal bite?
God invites us to look at all our relationships with a willingness to make changes. Giving up things that mean little to us, such as candy, soda, etc., are respectable, safe gestures that cannot impact the state of our souls. However, when we look critically at how little time we spend in prayer, what we worship in the secular world or how we spend our money, now we are talking!
Control is the basic issue. If we allow God into our lives more, that might challenge a spiritual closet arranged too neatly. We may even discover a painful skeleton that we have successfully ignored.
Deep within that closet, God is ready to help us sort out years of fears, assumptions, refusals to forgive and everything that keeps us from his real kingdom. This is not necessarily our version of what life with God is all about. So, how do we begin to clean our spiritual closets so that they reflect God’s version of “neat and tidy”?
A word of warning: Before we enter our spiritual closets, we must allow the Holy Spirit to do the sorting. As painful as it may be, the Holy Spirit’s housecleaning means that everything must come out. Then the Spiritus Santus scrubs it down with a strong solution of honesty. God’s hands are very thorough. Be ready and willing to be stripped.