My 12-Step Lenten Journey

Despite living all of my 40 years on earth as a Catholic, I tend not to “give up” things for Lent.

You may have noticed that whenever I talk about what I “gave up” for Lent I always put “give up” in these cute little quotation marks like this: “give up “, see?   That’s because my Lenten prayer is not just about a 40 day fast.  At least not anymore.   Sure, for years it was like that.  I’d give up candy, or soda, or a favorite dessert for 40 days…or as long as I could stand…or until I forgot.  But that’s not how I “do” Lent anymore.

Four years ago, I listened to my priest as he encouraged us to not just “give up” some THING for Lent, but to make it matter.  He said that if we were going to “give up” something for Lent, the best thing to “give up” was our sins!  Right then and there, my Lenten prayer changed from my telling myself what I would (try to) “give up” to my asking God what he would like to see changed in me.  In that moment, Lent was changed forever from my “giving up” my favorite things, to my offering God my willingness to change.  And what a difference it has made!

By that count, I can tell you what my last 4 Lents have involved “giving up”:

2010:  Pride

2011:  Judgment and Jealousy

2012:  Negative self-talk/image (i.e. Loving myself)

2013: Excuses

Looking at this  list, you’d think I’d be just about near-perfect by now,  wouldn’t you?  (Ha!)

Of course, through this process, I quickly learned (SPOILER ALERT!) that “giving up” my sins  really needed to be more than a 40 day undertaking.

Now, as a result, Lent is less about spending 40 days in the desert and more about beginning the process that every “12-stepper” already knows.  It means admitting that  I,  myself,  am powerless over the very things I attempt to “give up.” 

Yep.

Pow.Er.Less.

That’s so much nearer the truth!  I have no more power over my pride now that I did in 2010, no more power over my judgments and jealousy now that I did in 2011, no more power over my negative self-talk/image than I did in 2012, and no more power over my own excuses (for doing things I shouldn’t and not doing things I should) than I did when Lent began this year.

So, why bother then? you may be thinking.  Great question!  And the answer is this:  because while I don’t have power, I DO have awareness.

Awareness of how I am weak.  Awareness of how I am imperfect.  Awareness of how I.am.not.God.

And, though it may not sound like it…that is Good News!

The even better news is that, for those who are able to take that “first step” and are fully honest with themselves  about their powerlessness, there is a second step.  And that step is that with my new (and usually painful) awareness:  I came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.  (Because, trust me, as soon as you get honest enough with yourself to see all that exists inside of you that you cannot control…you would quickly be headed for the loony bin, if it weren’t for this second step!)  And  that sanity comes for me in the form of compassion, which God readily puts on my heart, for those who “suffer” the same weakness.

The best way I can think of to describe this process of awareness and compassion is like a river gently washing away the roughest edges of a stone.   Over time, as the “waters” of God’s mercy flow over me,  I find myself, bit by bit, letting go.  And then I take the next step.  And then the next.  And then the next. Until finally you can use your experience to help others in the best possible way:  you can say, I understand what you’re going through.  I struggle with it, too.  I’m here for you.

That’s the best example I can find of what Lent is for me: a lifelong 12-step program whereby God shows me the places in my heart where I need to improve, and I do my best to follow.  And, just like the washed-out drunk who has the courage to get real honest about their weakness with alcohol,  I’ve come to understand that while my journey may begin by my “giving up” something, it’s a decision I have to continue to make day after day after day for the rest.of.my.life.

To be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with fasting from, say, Diet Coke or M&M’s for 40 days to help yourself experience some of what Jesus suffered in the desert.  I’m just saying that, to my understanding, it wasn’t just suffering for 40 days with no food and water that changed Jesus.

It was his choosing not to succumb to his temptations.

And doing that didn’t just change him for 40 days.

It changed him forever.

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21 Days

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By this midpoint of Lent, I hope you’re finding your Lenten journey has been fruitful!  It is amazing the things that can be revealed to us, as we sit quietly in the desert of our hearts.

I’ve had a bit of a startling realization myself this morning.  Although, to be honest it really shouldn’t be that startling, because it’s almost always the same realization, shown to me in a new way:  the realization that I have a real knack for getting in God’s way.

This morning’s realization came to me after finally writing out in my journal exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish when I began this blog last Lent.  And when I wrote out those memories of what I’d hoped to achieve, I had to face the reality of what was wrong now.

Here’s what I remember about my reasons for the launching of The Mystic Mom:

1.  To share with “the world” (which at that time consisted of my mom, my mother-in-law, and a few friends of mine–Hi, Faithful Readers!), how I “see” God working in my life all the time.  Since I felt that the “mud had been wiped from my eyes” after reading several books by and about mystics (in various faiths…not just Christianity) I wanted to share how the Being that I call God really is a very ordinary and real part of our everyday lives.

And that’s it!  That was the start and end of my list at that time for starting this blog.

But, here’s where I get in the way.  Because as soon as I hit that “publish” button for the first time, a whole new list of thoughts began to form.  You know, those sneaky little thoughts that you try not to even entertain, but somehow seep into your being and attach themselves to the other, simpler, intention?  Thoughts like:

  1. Maybe someone would tell me how much my writing has changed their life.
  2. Maybe that person will tell some other people and one of those people will be a publisher.
  3. Maybe that publisher will want me to write a book.
  4. Maybe I won’t have an idea for a book, and my one chance for ever writing one will be gone!
  5. On the other hand, maybe I will have an idea for a book and it will be published, but not sell.
  6. Or, maybe that book will be a New York Times best seller!
  7. Maybe I will become famous for that best seller.
  8. Maybe I will have to travel the country promoting my book.
  9. Maybe I’ll have to travel the world!
  10. Who is going to watch my children while I’m traveling the world?
  11. Will my husband be jealous that I’m now traveling the world and the kids are more his responsibility than ever?
  12. Will our marriage survive this jealousy?
  13. What will we do with all the money, too?  Will we give it to charity, or hoard it for ourselves and become all focused on riches and wealth and forget all about God?
  14.  OK, Reality check.  The book will never get written.  The world doesn’t need another book.  Especially a book by me.
  15.  I’ll just blog sometimes.  For fun.
  16. Or , when I have something really important to say.   And that I know is coming from God.
  17. And also if I have the time to blog. If I don’t have the time that’s OK, too.  God will surely understand that.  I mean, he blessed me with motherhood three times over.  Surely he knows how busy I am!
  18. God probably doesn’t really need me to say anything anyway.  He’s got a whole slew of angels to deliver his messages.
  19. Plus, there are lots of better messengers than me.  More gifted.  More talented.  Just…better.
  20.  Why am I doing this again?

Do you see what happened there?  Over the course of the past year, I’ve drifted away from my original intention of taking my enthusiasm for understanding God through mysticism to “the world” and convinced myself that I should fear failure, and success, and just about everything in between.  So the posts have dwindled, the keyboard was broken, and The Mystic Mom was silenced.

And in that silence, God was able to be heard.

So this morning, when I  asked God to walk me through this whole process again and show me what it is HE intended (if anything) for me on this whole blogging journey, he very conveniently pointed out how far I’d strayed from my original intention.

Then he very conveniently also pointed out the one thing I’d promised to “give up” this Lent…my excuses.

And I know from experience, that excuses can only be extinguished with actions.  If I begin to act, then the excuses disappear.  This type of action is called discipline (from the word disciple), and it takes a lot of effort–especially in the beginning–to follow, and trust, and allow yourself to be transformed in the being God intended you to be.

For me, the act of discipline is, in most cases, the same thing as forming new habits.  I’ve heard it said that forming a habit takes only 21 days. I hope that’s true.  That’s why I’m announcing today that I will now be forming the habit of publishing a blog post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the end of Lent.  I will also tweet and post some other encouraging words on my Facebook page five days a week. 

It’s a start.  I don’t promise my posts will be good.  And I’ll probably surely fail the schedule at least a few times.  But, I promise I’ll get up again, when I do.   Also, in the beginning at least, I’ll probably be doing a lot of sharing of other people’s writings and words instead of my own.  But it’s the action of writing every day that I need in order to get rid of the excuses.

I learned a long time ago that what the Catholic church calls “sacraments” are really actions, not things.  They are actions of God for people.  We call them visible signs of invisible grace.    They are not “received” by us, so much as they are “celebrated” by us.  Because God is always everywhere, so is His grace ever-present.  Sacraments are the principal action through which Christ gives his Spirit to Christians and makes us a holy people.  We celebrate by affirming, honoring and praising our life in Christ through the sacraments.

With that reminder, I am now keenly aware that my writing…this blog, my journal, (a book?), whatever…is my sacrament.

My only real “job” here is to TAKE the experiences God gives me, BLESS them with a grateful heart, BREAK them into a lesson, and GIVE that lesson to others.

Why would I want to make an excuse for that?