Lenten disciplines, like New Year’s resolutions, often start out with a great bang only to fizzle out after a couple of weeks. But don’t despair, that’s not a reason to lose hope or beat yourself up. It is a reminder, however, of our human frailty and need for Christ. After all, this is what Lent is about – reminding us that we are but dust, and to dust we will return.
If we measure our relationship with God based on our faithfulness to our Lenten disciplines, we may find ourselves woefully lacking. God does not judge us based so much on what we do, but on the intentions of our heart. We can do a thousand acts of righteousness, but if the intention isn’t right, those acts do not benefit us spiritually no matter how good they are. Conversely, if we set out to do good and along the way we don’t accomplish our goal, but the intention of our heart was righteous, God will nevertheless reward us based on our intention.
Now, this is not a license to say we don’t have to do anything as long as our intentions are good. As the old saying goes, The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. But we are told in Scripture that God judges the intentions of one’s heart. Perhaps you intended to devote more time to prayer during Lent, but circumstances took over and you found yourself praying less than intended. This is not cause to feel defeated, but rather, to accept God’s love for us in spite of our human frailty. God sees the intention of your heart to pray more and overlooks the fact that we haven’t met our goal. What is important is that the time you DO pray is quality time devoted to God.
Major changes don’t always happen overnight. They occur incrementally, sometimes almost unnoticeable to us and those around us. Take for example weight loss. It seems we can gain weight overnight, especially as we get older. Try losing those extra pounds and it seems like an impossible task. However, small changes in our eating habits and regular moderate exercise will bring about slow weight loss. Eventually, one day you’ll be looking in the mirror and you won’t giggle as much when you jump up and down, and you begin to notice that you don’t look like a German bratwurst squeezed into those jeans. The real reward comes when others begin to notice the change and compliment you on your shrinking figure. For now, my loudest accusers are my pants that daily remind me that my expanding girth has reached the limit.
Spiritual growth isn’t a whole lot different from weight loss. It’s not an overnight event, but one that requires a great amount of time and patience. Spiritual growth requires incremental adjustments in our lives. Rather than looking for monumental change, we need to be aware of those small incremental changes that occur almost unnoticed in our lives. During Lent we are called to devote time to prayer, self-denial, and alms giving (giving to the poor). If we are going to commit to these spiritual disciplines during Lent, we need to also make a commitment to continuing them throughout the rest of the year.
I encourage you to consider praying at least one of the daily offices every day. For me, I start my day off with Morning Prayer. It could mean you choose to lay off the expensive mocha-frappachino-with light foam whatchamacallit you get on the way to work. You’ll save a lot of money and will cut tons of calories each week. Giving alms doesn’t mean giving out your pocket change to every homeless person who stops you on the street, but it does mean being intentional in your giving, especially in considering the poor and those in need.
Blessings on your Lenten journey. I look forward to meeting with you at the empty tomb.
Fr. Timothy Warren, a retired Air Force reservist and veteran educator, is the founding pastor of St. Francis (Independent Old Catholic Church), an outreach ministry located in Victorville, Calif. He is also President and Executive Officer for LifeSkills Development, a nonprofit organization that works with at-risk young adults, those on probation, and other marginalized groups. Fr. Tim serves on the High Desert Interfaith Council in Victorville. He lives in San Bernardino.