“But Lent is not a self-improvement program, nor is it a self-denial challenge, with badges to be earned for each day or week I manage not to eat chocolate. Lent is a time for us to be open to G-d’s refashioning of us.”
From Daily Reflections for Lent: Not by Bread Alone 2018 by Michelle Francl-Donnay
Typically I try to write my weekly reflection based on the Scripture readings for today, and I usually wait until after I’ve finished posting to read Michelle Francl’s reflections that I read daily. I don’t want to use someone else’s words as the basis for my feelings. Sometimes it’s inevitable because Lent is so universal sometimes the feelings and emotions brought up within each of us are also universal, and so we can’t help that sometimes we sound repetitive of someone else’s feelings and emotions. However, when I read these two sentences, it hit me so hard as much of her writing does, how she reaches into my mind and pulls out my thoughts. I’ve found someone whose voice I can recognize and understand.
My husband is not a practicing Catholic, and my children are “officially” Jewish even though we have always celebrated both religion’s holidays. I have been more religious than anyone else in my family for as long as I can remember. I grew up, not so much in a temple but in a shul where I learned the holidays, the songs, the traditions of being Jewish, and that is what I’ve followed with my own kind of care. Since becoming Catholic, I’ve become more religious, but it is a personal journey. Sometimes I involve my family, but often it is individual for me. For much of it, they simply don’t understand, and for the most part, that’s okay. When things come up, questions, I do my best.
Lent is hard.
Not the sacrifice or the willpower, but the simple answers of why are not so simple. Does G-d really care if you fast? I don’t think so. Like any other religious experience, it is individual, and it is between me and G-d, but ultimately it is up to me to do the thing and find the answers to the thing.
I gave up bread, so when I have a tortilla I’m asked why I’m eating bread (I really despise gatekeepers). Tortillas are bread nutritionally, but not bread for the purposes of eating bread. I won’t go into what is and isn’t bread, but I’m the one that gave it up and as long as I’m not parsing the definition, I know what I gave up and what I didn’t.
I don’t need a pat on the back when I don’t eat bread and I don’t need a hug when I do. I might include it in reconciliation or I might not.
Sometimes I do think that Lent is a self-improvement program. I can be a better person is I can take control of things. This is a good time to start. That would be great if this were New Year’s or the first day of spring. I have to continuously remind myself that the point of Lent is to grow closer to G-d. To eliminate what is standing between G-d and myself. If I give up bread and lost ten pounds (or thirty like the last time), that is not the focus. It’s a pleasant side effect, but how is not eating bread bringing me closer to G-d. Would giving up chocolate bring me any closer? Or soda? How are these things keeping me from G-d? Are they merely distracting me from Him?
I don’t know all the answers. I can only keep asking them, and hoping that through some discernment and prayer that I will receive those answers, or at least part of them like a puzzle piece to be placed and examined.
It is not self-improvement or self-denial, but for me, it is both and it is neither. It is many things at once, and it is only getting through it to the other side that I can find what I was looking for or see what I was being shown all along for the first time, and then I have the entirety of the Easter season to look back on it and contemplate some more, possibly seeing some of the things I may have missed in the rush to get through the Lenten sacrifice.
[Today’s Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23, Psalm 137, Ephesians 2:4-10, John3:14-21]