by Mary | Feb 17, 2023 | Life Lines
Back when I was younger, I would approach Ash Wednesday in spiritual attack mode. Armed with books and an overly ambitious plan, I entered the Lenten season like a tourist set on seeing every attraction in a city while missing out on the true charm of a place. By the second or third week of Lent, I’d find myself deflated and disappointed, wondering how I ended up so far from my original destination.
One of the benefits of aging, however, has been a softer and gentler approach to this challenging season. I’ve become more realistic about what I might accomplish during Lent, or any other day of my life. I know how easy it is to set overwhelming goals — spiritual or otherwise — and give up in frustration before any new habits have taken root. So, this year, as we prepare to begin our 40-day journey through the desert toward resurrection, I’m packing light. Yes, I still have plans but those lean more toward the possible, maybe even probable, rather than the impossible.
It’s good to remember as we begin this journey that it’s okay if it’s not always a direct route from Point A to Point B. We are human, after all, and although we sometimes don’t seem to grasp that, God does. There will be days when we feel as though we’re not making any spiritual “progress,” and other times when we seem to be slipping farther and farther from our goal. Fortunately for us, God is kind and merciful. And patient beyond measure.
So, take a deep breath and just begin. Right where you are. If you stumble along the way, dust yourself off and begin again. Transformation doesn’t come in an instant or all at once. It comes bit by bit and with daily effort. It also comes only with a willingness to let go of our need to control where this season will take us. We often want a transformation of our own making, rather than accepting the version God has planned for us. What if we loosened our grip on the reins and let God set the course?
Pope Francis says, “Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” Let’s take a moment and contemplate what needs to be reawakened in us, what needs a little shaking up. To keep us steady and on track, we can stake out a dwelling place — even if only for a few minutes each day — in the heart of Scripture, where we will find guideposts and markers to move us along.
We start each Lent with the stark reminder that we are dust and to dust we will return. Even if we get the more contemporary refrain — Repent and believe in the Gospel — that smudge of ash from last year’s burned palms is reminder enough of our temporary status on this planet. It’s such a beautiful way to begin, stripping it all down to the basics. We are here, but not for long. What do we plan to do with the brief time we have? How will God figure into those plans?
The poet Mary Oliver, in her poem “When Death Comes,” writes:
“When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
Perhaps we can take Oliver’s words to heart as we head into Lent, planning not to tackle an unrealistic list of things to do and sights to see but instead fostering a desire to slow down and make something “particular and real” of a season that offers us time apart to move closer to who and what God has called us to be.
I’ll be offering several Lenten retreats in the weeks ahead: Thursday, March 2, 6:30 p.m. at St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Niskayuna, NY; Saturday, March 11, 10 a.m. at St. Patrick’s in Ravena, NY; and Wednesday, March 15, 7 p.m. via Zoom. For more information, click HERE.
Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash
by Mary | Oct 6, 2021 | Life Lines
When I signed onto Facebook this week, I found a private message from someone who told me that a Life Lines column I had written about surrender eight years ago had been instrumental in helping her “let go and let God” in the midst of her struggle back then, and again even now as she faced new challenges. I have to admit that not only was I humbled, but I went to my own website and tried to find what words I might have written that had made such an impact, because, Lord knows, I could use some advice on how to surrender.
by Mary | Aug 16, 2020 | Life Lines
Chiara, 15, walked into our family room after a socially distanced bike ride with a friend and wisely observed that just a couple of months ago wearing a mask seemed like such a burden, an unusual discomfort, but now it’s completely normal and not really a big deal at all. That was perfect timing on her part because I, too, had been pondering the ways we humans are able to adapt to challenging or different circumstances with relative ease (unless we’re just stubborn), and isn’t that a marvelous and miraculous thing.
by Mary | Jul 8, 2016 | Life in My 50s, spirituality
Humility has never been my strong suit, which seems somewhat odd to me because I’m not a bragger or a diva. In fact, I trend toward the low end of the self-esteem spectrum. But humility is a tricky thing because it seems ever so close to humiliation, which never feels good. Before you know it, pride rears its ugly head and ego is right behind it. Once ego is involved, all bets are off. (more…)
by Mary | Feb 7, 2013 | Life Lines
A reader asked me to repost this column from close to 10 years ago. After some searching of paper and digital files, I realized it has never been posted on this site. I’m guessing there may be more in this category, so I will begin the process of making sure all of my Life Lines columns are here before Catholic New York closes up shop and my archive disappears. Here’s the requested column on surrender:
For the past few years I’ve had a practice of choosing a word as a theme or touchstone for the months ahead, or, more accurately, allowing my word to choose me. Last year it was “listen.” Back then I was having a hard time imagining I’d find even one word to define the coming months. This year, however, I’ve found not just one but a whole series of words that have taken up residence in my heart and soul. It started a few months back and has been picking up steam.
I had been doing some centering prayer one day and decided to focus on the word “truth” whenever I felt my mind starting to wander. It came naturally. I was searching for truth in my own life, truth in my spiritual life, truth in general. Then a few days later, when I sat down in quiet prayer again, I noticed about halfway through that I wasn’t coming back to the word truth, as I was “supposed” to but was instead hearing the word “trust” in my heart.
At first I thought I should change back to truth, but it seemed that if “trust” was coming up of its own volition, I needed to pay attention. I have issues with trust. Not with trusting other people, but with trusting God. I spend a lot of time in fear—fear of things that could happen to my children, fear of what might happen to me or Dennis, fear of financial stuff, health stuff, professional stuff, every kind of “stuff” you can imagine. And I expend lots of energy on fear, too much energy. So the idea that my heart would choose to give me the word “trust” was really a no-brainer.
For a while “trust” seemed to be a keeper, the word that would see me through the days ahead, something I could turn toward whenever I felt myself falling into that place of doubt and fear. Then suddenly, just when I was getting comfortable with my word, I found myself being pushed beyond trust toward something scarier: surrender. I was internally shaking my head “no” at this prospect, but there it was at every turn.
I kept showing up for yoga class and hearing my teacher tell me to surrender, surrender, surrender. I’d open up a book or blog post and see it again. I’m sorry but “surrender” is not in my mental vocabulary. Surrender means giving up. Surrender means weakness. Surrender means someone else is in control. Oh, wait. I get it.
So this year I’m allowing myself three words: truth, trust, surrender. I’m already finding it to be a challenge of epic proportions as I receive emails from people who need prayers for children who’ve been run over, burned, abused, and more, as I read stories of families devastated by losses of every kind and often the worst kind, as I recognize that “there but for the grace of God…” Fear would really like to declare itself champion and take over as reigning word.
I wish I could go back to last year’s word. Listening seems so much easier than surrendering, but this is where I am and, obviously, where I need to be. When I’m on my yoga mat, I see it played out in physical ways—I want to resist certain movements or avoid things I know I’m not good at or things that will stretch me in ways I don’t like. It gives me a clear picture of what needs to happen internally, where I’m putting up just as much resistance to the spiritual and mental stuff that stretches me in uncomfortable ways.
I feel like I’m facing an uphill battle with this word, this idea, but surrender can’t be a battle. It has to be a letting go, like falling backwards and knowing instinctively that Someone will catch me. “In my weakness, I am made strong.” Am I willing to let that become my mantra, my prayer?
This column originally appeared in the Feb. 7, 2013, issue of Catholic New York.