As Lent approaches, Lindsey Mitzel contemplates our need to focus on how we can allow the Lord to draw us closer to Him.
My husband recently began Exodus 90, which is a 90-day spiritual exercise for men. It involves some intense things like fasting multiple days per week, daily dedicated prayer times, weekly meetings, no snacking, and cold showers. When my husband first approached me about the opportunity I was pretty closed off about the idea. Honestly, he had his own reservations as well. Our life is very full right now (can I italicize that enough?), and we are living in the midst of several challenges.
However, after the first few weeks, my husband was joyfully proclaiming the tremendous good it has brought to his life. Our parish priest, who is also going through Exodus 90, recently talked about how removing things that can serve as distractions in our day to day life has been hard, but has also ushered in clearer thinking, something like coming out of the fog. “Exodus” means to depart. In my humble understanding, the focus is largely on departing from the expectations of people and the world and allowing prayer and fasting to help guide one back to the designs God specially has for each individual man.
Lent begins March 2 and is not so much unlike the premise for Exodus 90. The Church, in her wisdom, sets aside this Biblically-based time for our hearts to travel through the desert in a sense. In the grace-filled time of Lent we can participate in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, which, similar to Exodus 90, present ways for us to gradually work to undo the ties our hearts, minds, and bodies have to various things. Those things that we are overly attached to could be sinful, bad habits (or unhelpful habits), addictions, or even distractions (no, kids don’t count).
In Lent, the common practice of “giving up” something is a kind of fast and can serve to help us detach from any one of these. However, ultimately, just as the purpose of the Exodus is to free the Israelites from slavery, the purpose of Exodus 90 is to help men to become free from various things that are enslaving them. In the same way, Lent is for all of us a journey out of our normal routine and into the desert, where we hope to one day see and enter the promised land.
As the beginning of Lent approaches and we begin to think about how the Lord may be hinting at, or straight-out telling us, how He wants to change, grow, and heal our hearts, I wanted to offer just small reflection.
Recently I was talking with my pastor about my concern that I’m constantly failing my kids. When I read about various Saints, I’ll note things like, “She had the sweetest temperament” and “They were always thinking of others” and “They gave away all they had.” I can’t imagine ever being described in these ways, and it can make me feel discouraged. St. Thérèse of Lisieux is best known for her “Little Way,” her way of loving the Lord incredibly through small things. If someone was rude or harsh with her, she would endeavor to always offer them her best smiles.
This seems so straightforward, and yet, when I’m already stressed, grumpy or not feeling well and someone is rude to me, I find it incredibly difficult to not say anything in response, let alone offer them my very best smile. To offer my best smile, I really need to feel tremendous love for that person. I find it quite difficult, in the moment, to feel tremendously loving towards someone who hurts me, and it makes me admire St. Thérèse even more. St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” It seems like it should be so easy, but this can also be so challenging!
When I’d finished explaining, my pastor cut to the heart of it and said, “So you’re clearly doing a good job at being hard on yourself ... But when you ask Jesus about it, how does He view you?”
I knelt before the Tabernacle and asked Jesus, “But who do You say that I am?” In my mind there was an image of a tiny bird with an injured wing that was hopping and desperately trying to fly. Somehow Jesus showed me that as He bent to try to help the bird, representing myself, it flitted and jumped away, untrusting and afraid of being injured further. However, just as we would feel such compassion and tenderness for an injured bird and would do all we could to care for it, He patiently waits for me to trust Him enough to care for me as well.
“The heart of Christ is a place of joy, and he earnestly wishes us to enter into it” (Magnificat, February 2022, 167). We can become distracted and discouraged by our assumptions about God, His mercy, and His love. I forget, for example, that the crazy love I have for each of my children was placed in my heart by God. It is His love which allows me to have any. And if His love is even deeper than my own, He will forgive me more deeply than even I do when I forgive my children, or they do when they forgive me.
Just like my pastor helped to shift my focus from what I was afraid I was doing all wrong to God’s Heart and how He sees me, I think sometimes we can tend to focus too much on what we will “give up” or “do” for Lent, instead of on our Lord’s incredible Heart for us and His desire to be close to us. The whole purpose of Lent is not so much for us to prepare ourselves, but rather, for us to let Jesus in and allow Him to attend to us and change us so we can be more one with Him.
Ultimately Lent isn’t about what we can do for God and Good Friday isn’t about us being crucified. It’s about Jesus’ willingness to be crucified for us out of His extraordinary love for us. In His Resurrection Jesus shows us that we don’t need to stay enslaved. Through Him and His love for us, we can rise to new life and have hope in heaven with Him forever.
Copyright 2022 Lindsey Mitzel
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About the Author
Lindsey Mitzel is a nurse practitioner and mom to four littles. When not wrangling with or reading to her kids, she can usually be found doing something outdoors. She appreciates dry humor, a good pun, and strong coffee. You can read more about her at Eight and a Half Months. Lindsey also occasionally writes for Be Love Revolution's Tiny Thoughts blog.