Catholicism,  Liturgical Living

How I Reclaimed My Lent as a Busy Mom

A trifold image of Jesus on the cross while His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. John the Apostle look upon Him in grief.  I meditate on this image during Lent.

How I Wanted My Lent to Go…and How It Actually Went.

I remember the Lent before I was baptized into the Church so clearly. I prayed my first-ever 54-day Rosary novena. I finished up all of the requirements and assignments for RCIA. I stopped eating meat altogether and kept adding new goals to my already very long list of penances. I studied saints and agonized over which one I would choose as my Confirmation saint. After a very long and arduous conversion process, I was overjoyed to enter into the desert with Our Lord. I rejoiced in whatever suffering came my way because I knew that the joy of Easter and my long-awaited salvation were at hand.

Y’all, I was on fire. Naïve as all-get-out, but on fire nonetheless.

Fast-forward seven years. I still have a laundry list of penances that I set out to do. I’m currently praying yet another 54-day novena. I’m checking all the Lenten boxes as a good Catholic girl should.

However, that fire, that passion, that deep yearning to suffer so I could rejoice more heartily at Easter is missing. Lent 2014 JuliaMarie was picking up her cross and running with it with a smile on her face. This Lent, JuliaMarie is crawling through the desert on her belly and complaining the whole dang time. And her cross is laying behind her some twenty feet away.

The Road to Calvary is Paved with Good Intentions….

Going into Lent this year, I was determined to make the most of it. I resolved to shake the dust from my weary prayer life and refocus my heart on God. I would break all of our family’s bad habits we had picked up during the Time of Corona and postpartum-haze. We would become so dang holy, and I was going to be the one to make it happen.

I was sure that I could stick with all of my resolutions as long as I had the season of Lent to give me the push I needed to stick with all of the new rules I had laid out for myself and my family. I had done it so many Lents before; I could do it again, right??

And then, as it always does, life happened.

The start of Lent and my fresh wave of determination did not magically make being a working parent any less exhausting. They didn’t make having to keep an extremely loud toddler quiet through Mass any less embarrassing or frustrating. They didn’t make my stagnant prayer life suddenly burst with enthusiasm and piety.

Instead, with each setback, each excuse, I felt myself get more and more agitated that I even bothered coming up with Lenten resolutions in the first place. It felt like the universe, and my nine-month-old clearly had no intentions of going along with all of my well-laid plans.

At Least I’m Not One of Those Moms…

Before Ash Wednesday, I had seen several mothers on Instagram give their perspectives on how they were planning on approaching Lent this year. I quickly noticed that everyone from the moms with brand new babies to the seasoned matriarchs with their brood of teenagers in tow had the same approach: don’t stress about Lent.

“How can I not stress out about Lent?!” I thought incredulously.

“Don’t they know that this only comes once a year?! I have to make the most of it, or else we will be doomed to have a lukewarm faith!”

These mothers all focused on offering up their daily struggles to God and maybe incorporating a few cute little activities for their children to help guide them into the spirit of the season.

“How could letting kids stick nails into a dough crown and praying when you feel like screaming at your husband possibly be enough for Lent??” I wondered.

“What about the huge lifestyle changes??”

“What about the radical uprooting of every single vice you could think of??”

I certainly would not allow myself to settle for such mediocre goals as offering it up or allowing God to “meet me where I’m at.”

The Inevitable Reality Check

Reader, I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that I set myself up for a major humility check.

My goal of getting through the day with no screen time for my toddler lasted one whole day.

I gave up on my plans for increased family prayer and reading time before we ever got started.

I literally stone-cold forgot that Stations of the Cross were even a thing until the fourth Thursday of Lent.

Like quite a few aspects of my life right now, I’m basically scraping the bottom of the bare-minimum barrel. Sure, I’ve limited my time on social media, and I quit drinking. I gave up my beloved true crime podcasts and added a few extra email devotionals that I read while half asleep first thing in the morning. But, to be perfectly honest, my heart is just not in it. Sticking with these goals has not brought me any sense of closeness with my Creator. If anything, my goals felt more like attempts at losing baby fat and having something holy to quote if the topic of faith ever comes up in conversation at work.

The Lent I Wanted Vs the Lent I Have.

This past Sunday was Passiontide Sunday, and the priest began his homily by explaining that this was the time to redouble our efforts. Time to really focus on Our Lord as He enters into His Passion. To uproot the things in our lives that keep us from experiencing the radical love of the Father.

That hit me like a ton of bricks.

In my zeal for making my Lent as Lent-y as possible, I allowed my focus to shift from Jesus to my own selfish goals. Rather than focusing on my Lord, I focused inward. I scoffed at the idea that He could meet me in my brokenness and exhaustion. Instead, I set out to lift myself to meet Him, believing in my own ability to do so, rather than daring to recognize my need for His help. I was so desperate to rekindle the fire I felt for my faith that I felt during that Lent all those years ago; I had burnt myself out and cut God out of my Lent in the process.

But thankfully, there is still time.

Passiontide brings with it new opportunities. New chances to let my eyes and heart become more fully focused on the Reason I even set out on this journey of faith seven years ago. My first step is to swallow my pride and recognize that I cannot do this alone. I also cannot allow my visions and preconceived notions of what a fruitful Lent should look like taint the Lent that I actually have.

And the Lent I have is a tired and busy one.

God Doesn’t Care How You Wanted Lent to Go.

I work from home. My three sons are with me all day while I work. My husband comes home in the middle of the mad rush to get dinner on the table with enough time to stick to three different bedtime routines. I’m often ready to pass out the moment my kids shut their eyes.

I struggle with anxiety and depression that take a huge amount of effort to control.

Mass right now is more of a weekly power struggle instead of the intimate opportunity to adore my Savior that it had been in the past.

And you know what?

All of that is okay.

Not the kind of “okay” that says that it’s good to give up and expect God to “get it” and let me sit in my mediocrity. Instead, it’s “okay” in the sense that He understands that I am human. The fact that I am trying means something to Him. He experienced Passiontide for my sake. He has loved me with an everlasting love. He only asks that I return to Him with my whole heart. He asks for me to stop relying on my fallible, prideful self and instead find comfort and rest in the ocean of His mercy.

Looking Past Lent and Into Holy Week

Now that Lent is almost over and the Resurrection is upon us, I realize that all of those moms on Instagram were right. We do not need to stress over Lent. If we spend every one of these precious forty days worried about whether or not our self-imposed penances will make us oh-so-holy, then we have missed the point of the season altogether.

To quote Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring, I have to decide what to do with the time that has been given to me; and I am deciding to choose surrender and grace over false piety and stress.

Will I succeed? Probably not. But at least I have a clearer vision of how I need to live out the rest of this holy Lenton season. Praise God for that.

I hope your Lent has been fruitful, and if it has been anything like mine, I hope these last two weeks help to unite you in the sufferings of Our Lord and lead you more fully into the glory of His Resurrection.

To Him through Her,

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