By the end of Lent? Sweets have been eaten, movies have been watched, the prayers have been prayed a few times, but certainly not at the appointed time each week that we set out do them. Every Lent it's a little demoralizing and a lot ME-centered. What I didn't do, what I let the kids do, the sweets that I ate. I am not at all assuming that anyone else has ever been in this boat and I promise I'm not asserting that Lent should go differently for anybody else, but for me this is how it usually is, and for me I am hoping it will be a little different this year.
No matter how hard I have tried, the focus always ends up back on me, on my abilities, on what I was or wasn't able to accomplish, and this year I hope the focus can shift to Christ, on his sufferings and on attempting to lighten the weight of his cross. My favorite saint said frequently: "Love is repaid by love."
Yes, absolutely: I can show my love for Christ by giving up sweets, and obviously extra prayers are a great way to show him love-- these things are wonderful in and of themselves. But I have this hunch that the more pressing way and greater opportunity for me to carry the cross with Christ is to lovingly embracing the already-present "crosses" in my day, instead of running away from them, or bitterly dragging them as I usually do.
I read this in that same saint's Way of the Cross the other day, and haven't been able to stop thinking about it since, so I am thinking it is going to shape how I approach this lent:
Learn to mortify your whims. Accept setbacks without exaggerating them, without throwing up your arms, without... hysterics. In that way you will lighten the Cross for Jesus.
-Saint Josemaria Escriva, The Way of the Cross 5th station, 3rd mediation
Some things I've come up with to combat my usual hysteria in the face of daily contradictions:
Instead of frantically and frustratingly dragging the tantruming child to her room, maybe I should embrace her like the cross she is being, and even carry her to the crucifix to say a little prayer with her while she kicks my pregnant belly. Maybe instead of begrudgingly caring for the older child who is depriving me of yet another hour of sleep in the middle of the night (it drives me bonkers when it's the older ones!), I could embrace her like the cross she is presenting herself as, and care for her like I would care for Christ on the way of the cross. An alternative to getting annoyed at the 6-year-old who simply will not focus on the lesson I am trying to do with her, is to gently and lovingly encourage her, with more affirmation and less nagging. On a day of a bad pregnancy migraine, I could try to exercise my mouth muscles in the direction of a constant smile rather than the perma-frown I usual sport on those days. And obviously, less yelling, but that goes without saying.
Since having kids I feel this pressure every year to do more with them during Lent, or to encourage them to give up more, but it doesn't usually go very well and I often fail to draw the connection between the sacrifices and charity, and especially love for our Lord. For instance, that it means very little for them to give up their nightly package of fruit snacks if Naomi is going to punch Bernadette the first time she gets on your nerves, first thing in the morning, or visa versa.
And as embarrassing as it is, they learn a lot from my examples: flying off the handle when one kid pushes the wrong button, angrily talking to them through gritted teeth when they have done something really naughty. It seems to me that they would learn a lot more from a better example from me than from "50 Fun Lenten Craft" ideas that I try to execute from Pinterest (which incidentally may be the very cause of my flying off the handle in the first place).
So this Lent I am doing nothing. I'm not giving anything up, I'm not even resolving to do anything extra. At face value that looks like I am gearing up for the worst Lent ever, but I'm hoping it won't be. I'm hoping that if I can just get back to basics: daily prayer, every day, begging for the grace to speak gently to my children and to choose virtue over sin, and asking for grace to see the every day setbacks as little opportunities to lighten Our Lord's cross by embracing each little cross lovingly, without hysterics, and maybe even with a smile.