In setting spiritual goals for Lent, Lisa Hess offers encouragement to focus on the journey of the season.
Every month, I set goals for myself. Sitting down and writing out what I want to accomplish focuses me and helps me to juggle the various aspects of my life—one step in moving toward an often elusive work-life blend.
Often, I overshoot. Sometimes, the balls I'm juggling all come crashing to the ground.
But I've come to like overshooting. My goals aren't the SMART goals embraced by businesses and, taken together, they're not even the REAL goals I've written about.
Separately, however, my goals represent a combination of my hopes and dreams broken down into the actions necessary to make them a reality. When I judge my progress on a black-and-white, success-or-failure scale, it's easy to feel defeated, but when I focus on growth, I not only feel better, but I also know exactly where to go with my goals for the next month.
Or for the 40 days of Lent that are now upon us.
What, you may ask, do goals have to do with Lent? Or organizing?
When we give something up for Lent, we're setting a goal—to go without in preparation for the feast to come at Easter. The explicit reasons for our choices vary but, for most of us, they somehow relate to drawing closer to God or coming closer to being the person we think He wants us to be.
Alternatively, we can use Lent to develop a new habit, setting a goal to pray the Rosary, read a spiritual book, or do a simple act of kindness every day. Whether we are adding or subtracting, we are setting a goal to be better than we are, organizing our lives around God in some way during this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
No matter how realistic our goals, we will sometimes fail to reach them. Life intervenes, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in ways we'd rather not imagine. But if we focus on the journey, rather than the destination, we can reframe our perceived failure in terms of growth. Every prayer, kindness, or forsaken chocolate bar is a moment that brings us closer to who we want to be, and who we perceive God wants us to be. Imperfection merely reminds us of our need for not only God's grace, but a little self-forgiveness as well.
And that's a win. Or a succession of them, no matter how disconnected.
When I was young, I always chose to give something up for Lent. The older I get, the more likely I am to use Lent as a time to develop a new habit that enhances my spiritual life.
Honestly, giving things up was easier because I knew that after Easter I could go back to eating chocolate or French fries or ordering venti Starbucks chai tea lattes. It was a temporary change, a personal challenge to my self-control and not something that had much of a long-term impact. With an end in sight, it was relatively easy not to break my Lenten resolutions but, once Lent was over, they disappeared as quickly as Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail.
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Every prayer, kindness, or forsaken chocolate bar is a moment that brings us closer to who we want to be, and who we perceive God wants us to be. #CatholicMom
Adopting a new habit is harder at the outset, but has more potential for long-term change. I'm more likely to forget to write in a prayer journal, or decide I'd rather binge mindless television than read that spiritual book that looked so good on Valentine's Day. But even if I achieve my goal only imperfectly, 40 days is long enough to know whether or not this new habit is sustainable, and whether or not it will lead me in the right direction.
Whatever our specific Lenten goals are, the objective should be to move thoughtfully through the season, using what we've eschewed or adopted to lead us to becoming the kind of people that glorify God, even after Lent is over.
And that, like so many other things, is a process.
Copyright 2023 Lisa Hess
Images: Canva; "REAL goals" copyright 2023 Lisa Hess, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Transplanted Jersey girl Lisa Lawmaster Hess is the author of a blog compilation, three novels, and three non-fiction books, including the award-winning Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania. She blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, Organizing by STYLE, and here at Catholicmom.com. Read all articles by Lisa Hess.