If I had to list my most "successful" Lents I would probably say the following ranked as the top three:
- The year I gave up shopping and did really well except for the pair of shoes that I bought and hid in my desk at work until Easter so my husband wouldn't notice them. I sure did save a lot of money that year!
- The year that I gave up coffee and no one at work wanted to speak to me before Noon. Boy did that one require perseverance-especially on the part of my co-workers. I did kick that nasty caffeine habit, though!
- Finally, there was the year I gave up grated parmesan cheese - what a major sacrifice for this Italian girl. I practically top brownies with that stuff. Talk about HOLY!!! Plus, I lost a few pounds that year as well!
Epic successes, all of them. Well done, Debbie.
The problem is, Lent isn't about being successful. Or about saving money. Or about losing weight. Lent is a matter of the heart. The celebration of Ash Wednesday begins with a reading from the book of Joel in which the Lord, speaking through the prophet Joel exhorts us to:
"Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting weeping and mourning.
Rend your hearts and not your garments. (Joel 2:12-13)
In the Psalm for Ash Wednesday, we read David's cries to the Lord, begging Him for his mercy after he has been caught in the grievous sin of arranging to have his lover's husband killed.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God." (Psalm 51:10)
Within the Daytime Prayer of the Liturgy of the House we read from Ezekiel:
"Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed,
and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit." (Exekiel 18:31)
Are you beginning to see a pattern here? In all of these readings, we are being urged to seek the Lord with our heart first. Furthermore, the condition our heart is in is also important: our hearts must be clean, pure, new, and whole. God doesn't want half of our heart. He doesn't want a heart intent on performing religious actions with an ulterior, self-serving motive. The Lord wants all of our heart and he wants us to surrender it to Him freely and for the right reasons - out of love, thanksgiving and adoration. The common failure of all my Lenten "successes" was that I had not given the Lord my heart. My resolutions focused on what the fasting would do for me. I was successful because I achieved my goals, but success was not what God was asking of me.
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that fasting during Lent isn't important. Fasting is a key element of the three-fold practice of Lent which also includes prayer and alsmgiving. In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday Jesus warns of having the right motives when you fast, when you pray and when you give alms. (Matthew 6:2-16). The implication in his use of the word when is that all three of these practices will be observed. Jesus' warning is about the motive behind these practices. He is looking at the heart.
My prayer in the trenches of everyday life during this Lenten season is not that I am successful at fasting, prayer or almsgiving, but rather that, through the Lord's grace, Lent truly becomes a matter of the heart.
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