Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Ashes to Ashes

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I can’t decide what to do for Lent this year.  Sure I can give up something, but, what?  Swearing?  I’ve done that but find that sometimes there is no appropriate alternative to convey what needs to be said other than a four-letter word.

Sweets — this is quite remarkable if you can really go six weeks without indulging.  My husband usually chooses this, and sure enough by noon on Ash Wednesday he has already had a donut, a cookie or a few pieces of candy off of someone’s desk at the office.  It always astounds me that he had the wherewithal to pass the bar exam yet he can’t remember what he gave up for Lent on the very day he has ash smudged on his head.

green beerAlcohol — really?  Why would anyone do this?  St. Patrick’s Day is always during the Lenten season and unless you are a serious-serpent lover, show some respect for the legacy of this Irishman and have a little green beer.

Shopping — I gave up buying clothes for myself last year, but found the caveat of home-decorating to be as enjoyable.  I must say my house looked quite lovely by Easter.

I am not trying to rain on anyone’s Lenten parade, but I don’t get how any of these sacrifices bring us closer to God.  They just seem like rebranded knock-offs of cast away resolutions from a not-so-new year.

I know that giving things up for Lent is intended to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice He made for our salvation – His life.  But, does it?

When you are craving a cookie (and, unlike my husband, actually remember to not eat one) are you thinking of Christ?  I bet most people when opting to keep the lid on the cookie jar, are thinking more of how they will look on the beach in a few months than they are considering Jesus’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane.

Perhaps if we decided to say a sincere prayer while everyone else is passing around the green beer, these sacrifices would do more than keep us sober.  Like so many things, it seems the meaning of the tradition has been lost like a rogue jellybean at the bottom of an Easter basket.

I am not suggesting that we forgo these offerings, but that we align our intention with them so that we may be more aware of His presence. The time spent between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday should be used for prayer, penance, alms-giving and self-denial.  It is meant to be reminiscent of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan before his public ministry.

I am certain if that Samoa Girl Scout cookie reminded us of Satan’s lure we would be less likely to succumb to its yumminess.

Lent is a time to focus on our preparedness for the resurrection, and we can use these sacrifices as a means to purify ourselves.  In the past I have been guilty of culturally participating without any cognizance of purpose.

It reminds me of a movie my husband and I watched recently, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” a dark romantic-comedy about one man’s experience knowing that the planet would be struck by a meteor in a matter of weeks.

It was entertaining to watch people’s reaction to the world’s end — some went on selling life-insurance, mowing their lawn, or dusting furniture.  Others committed suicide, participated in riots or drunken debauchery, all while the media still reminded viewers to set their clocks back for daylight savings time.

The main character, whose wife left him once the certainty of the meteor was announced, went on a pilgrimage with a woman he befriends in his building to find his high school sweetheart.

Okay, I am going to spoil the movie now, but it’s been out of theatres for months so you probably weren’t going to see it anyway.  Drum roll please — the man and his new lady friend fall in love.  Ta da!

Wait – I’m not done. After they finally figure out that this is the love a lifetime, kiss and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, you know what happens?  The world ends.

Yes, it really ends.  One minute they were laying there looking into each other’s eyes, professing their love for one another and the next minute the screen went blank, the credits rolled and I burst into tears.

I was shocked, the world really ended.  (Okay I know I have said that three times now, but I am still not quite over it.)

My husband was confused by my astonishment since that was the basis of the entire movie.  In fact, while I sat dumb-founded wondering how their newly-discovered love could instantly be nullified by a giant rock, my husband kept putting the throw over his head so he could laugh at my naiveté without hurting my feelings.  Sweet, I know.

While I found it interesting to consider other people’s reactions to knowing their demise was imminent, my reaction was just as absurd.

I thought because something really wonderful had just happened, that it would change everything – the meteor would suddenly blow off course and this couple would have the happily ever after that Hollywood always promised before it became so cynical.

I got so caught up in the love story that I lost sight of the movie’s premise which is eerily similar to life — that which is of this world will pass away.

ash wednesdayThe season of Lent begins solemnly with the dust of ashes being marred on our forehead.  I am not sure how much clearer it has to be for us — death is inevitable.

Left for discernment is what becomes of us upon our death.  Will it be glorious like Jesus’s resurrection?  Are we prepared to be in His loving, divine arms and will sacrificing our indulgences during this Lenten season get us closer to an eternity of joy, where we realize just how inconsequential the treasures of our earthy life were?

I don’t know the right answers because too often I focus on the wrong things myself.  It is easy to become distracted from the main message, to lose yourself in the love of things and people from this world.

But, I don’t want to be the one in the end feeling foolish and unprepared — incredulous that there was no tricky plot twist.

It will be as it was always written.

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever,” John 2:17.

Perhaps that is what we should ask ourselves during Lent– not what we are going to give up, but for whom.  When you look at it like that, it’s not a tough choice at all.

Please share your comments, insights and suggestions on what to give up for Lent this year.  I need some inspiration! Thank you for taking this journey with me. 

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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

18 thoughts on “Ashes to Ashes

  1. I don’t want to give you a big head and I’ve probably said this before, you don’t have to give anything up for Lent. You walk the walk year round so this concept of giving up something because one was brainwashed as a kid is utter nonsense. I’d be willing to wager that 95% of folks who give us something can’t tell you why and it doesn’t alter their behavior. Hope you guys get a Pope with a moral compass. You wonder what he was thinking when he promoted sainthood for a Pope who failied to denounce the Nazis and then took back the excommunication of a bishop who was a Holocaust denier. I think those issues are more pertinent than whether someone doesn’t eat jelly bellies for Lent.

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  2. Norm I was going to reply on Lara’s blog but had to address what you wrote. First of all, I would disagree on your 95% comment. I sacrifice will full awareness of why I am sacrificing and those that I discuss Lent with do so as well. Whether it alters my behavior or not – I don’t know. I always try to be pretty kind to others but I am sure I could improve and maybe that is something I need to consider and add. I do also try to give something up that will make me grow or improve as a person. I think God gives a big thumbs up for self improvement. The entire Catholic Faith is praying for a wise Pope that will provide us the proper leadership we need during these times, but it does not mean that we should ignore our personal sacrifices and reflections. To say it is brain washing as a child is very disrespectful and hateful to those in the Catholic Faith. I do not sacrifice because I was brain washed. I sacrifice to remind myself during this time of the sacrifices that Jesus the Son and God the Father made for us. I respect your religion and would request you take the time to respect ours.

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  3. Your last couple of lines gave me chills! I am doing the typical – giving up a junk food – but one that i have major issues with – cookies!! and cookie dough of course! But now – after reading your post – when those girl scout cookies come in in a few weeks – I will imagine them as teh devil with snakes coming at me!! I think that may help – and better my chances of keeping my lentent promise. I appreciate your post – it has made me focus my typical sort of lenten sacrifice in a new direction – remembering that I am not doing this to lose weight (a little – and I do need divine intervention for that apparently) – but to feel the sacrifice. Thank you – loved it!

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    • Well, I have been guilty of giving things up for Lent and while I intellectually know why I do it, I think I sometimes miss the spiritual connection. This year I am going to try and focus on a spiritual and physical component. While I know the Pope’s resignation is big news and I was certainly surprised by it, I think we have to focus on controlling the things we can — our own behavior and spiritual aptitude. I certainly struggle with that enough. If I can use my lenten sacrifices to somehow improve than hopefully I will be a little closer to what God calls me to be.

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  4. I agree with what you said regarding people giving things up: sometimes (most of the time) we give up and/or do trite things with not-so-noble reasons: you’ve read my Lenten list; I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about how giving up rice and junk food will help me lose weight… Regardless, I think the most important thing that we can do over Lent is simply use those “trite” things that we decide to do as stepping stones toward self-improvement, particularly in regards to our relationship with God. After all, we always need to improve; we’re only human, after all. (P.S. You’ve just gotten a new follower! I’ve been wanting to find someone with whom I can have frank conversations with about spirituality. Your blog seems like a great platform for just that.)

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    • Sarina- I don’t think its bad to give up things that will help us to be better (like lose weight) because God wants us to be the best version of ourselves we can be. Besides, its the little things in life that we treasure the most so maybe that is how God looks at our “small” sacrifices. So glad you are following and for your insight.

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  5. I love this. I have been praying that God would help me make this Lent “real.” I want to be closer to God and more peaceful by Easter morning. One thing
    I saw on FB that I like is “Lights out for Lent”. The premise is no lights after sundown. You finish your chores and work before the sun goes down. Then you read or play games by candlelight. It sounds so peaceful that it might actually help us get quiet enough to hear from God. This is my hope. To grow closer and more connected with God.

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    • Wendy~ let me know if you do the lights out for Lent, I would love to hear about it. Its funny how technology can tear us apart as much as bring us back together. I guess its like anything – not inherently good or bad but all how you use it. I appreciate you sharing the idea. I am trying to make Lent more real for me as well. I know its only the first day and I had massively large ashes on my head and a hunger that was bearable but unpleasant and I felt very mindful. Hoping to keep it up — not the hunger but the mindfulness!

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  6. As always, your writing can wash away a day of stress and craziness, heartache and headache! You give me peace, my friend. Ok, for Lent, how about the One for One. Like Toms shoes, every pair sold means a pair is donated to a child in need. I’m not saying do that exactly, but some form of it. I will keep thinking, nite nite, I have been up since 4am. Xo

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  7. For years everyone was giving something up for Lent that was really supposed to be a sacrifice for you then thoughts changed and it was advised to do something instead. I believe both work as long as you have good intentions and try to stay the course but it’s not easy. That’s when prayer comes in- I know that I do not spend enough serious time in prayer and solitude. whatever we choose to do for Lent it must have meaning for us and help bring us closer to our Lord who lived and died for us. Mary Jo

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    • Mary Jo- you are right. It is all about the intention and I am trying very hard to be mindful of that this year. And prayer definitely helps and as many times as that has been true in my life, its amazing that I don’t devote more time to it!

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  8. I love this too! And I love the idea of “lights out for Lent”! I am always threatening to have a “Faux power outage/hurricane” but now I have some Lent power and a catchy title & theme. A good theme gets the momentum going, allows for good brainstorming for ideas to go with, and gives the whole thing credibility. I do like to give up something tangible like dessert, and when I am tempted I really do say to myself, Jesus gave his life for us, I can give up this cookie, or something else that would be part of normal life. It humbles me, and in a day which we are rarely deprived, i need it . i also like it because it is black and white- i know if I failed or not. I am also decluttering, literally, to make more room for God and remove distractions for us all. We also add things like “a Lenten serving” each day. Just serve someone else each day. The kids we write their servings. on paper leaves we have already cut out and attach them to our bare tree. By Easter it has “come to life”. Even though this activity is a “kid thing” it is really neat to see it come to life via good deeds. We also have “resurrection eggs” and a “Jesse Tree” that has daily readings to go with it.

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    • Oh Laddy – what great ideas! I love the visual for the kids of bringing the tree to life. I understand what you mean about the physical sacrifice and you bring up an excellent point that we are all so rarely deprived (and yet there are also so many who are) it is a good reminder of how blessed we truly are. Admittedly I felt this today just trying to eat 2 lesser meals and one full meal. I have held steadfast but it has been hard. My energy level and attention span certainly aren’t what they should be today. But I also noticed that because of this I moved a little slower, a little more deliberately and which made me more aware certainly of God but also of the moment. So was it a sacrifice or a gift? Again, I love your ideas. I told my kids we were going to each praise something about one another before we go to bed. Who couldn’t use a little validation, and I I am hoping it makes us all more aware of how special we are to one another.

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  9. God bless you all. I also have been discerning just what to do this year and I got a great idea from my Catholic Digest. I am going to mix it up by that I mean do something or give up something different everyday. I am brainstorming my ideas and will write one on a slip of paper. Then each moring I will draw one and that will be my daily lenten “job” for the day. I am going to include things like no coffee today, no meat, no TV etc. I also want to give it a positive twist like go to mass on Saturday morning, call a friend to say I love you, say a rosary etc. Hope I can make it to the end.

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    • Joann ~ This is such a wonderful idea, and can be kind of fun too just leaving it to God on a daily basis. I am thinking it would be great for me to make a similar bag for my kids. BTW, it is wonderful to hear from you. I still remember the bridesmaid luncheon you/Debbie hosted before my wedding. My how fast the time has passed. Knowing you, I have no doubt you will make it to the end. You have always had such admirable faith.

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  10. Ah, Lent. As I’ve gotten older (yes, I can admit it to myself and others), I’ve tried to make the sacrifice something which would increase/improve my prayer life. In the past it has been to say the rosary daily but I was not always successful. This year, I am making a point to read the daily mass readings and to reflect on those throughout the day and try to apply the teachings to daily life. So far, I’ve been good about the readin’, it’s just the applyin’ I’m having issues with but that’s what the journey is about. Thanks to all of you for your other good ideas for Lent.

    And to the gentleman who commented, I believe that all people who make a Lenten sacrifice, regardless of what it is, know in their hears why the practice is done. The question is whether they are secure enough in their faith to discuss it with people like you. I’d rather leave room for the idea there is good in their hearts than assuming their hearts are empty and their brain has been washed.

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    • Helen, I think the mass readings are a good idea for a lenten journey. I am going to have to go back to this comment section next year because I really like some of the ideas shared.

      One of the things I am doing is attending a prayer group and its really been enjoyable discussing God’s love for us with others. We all have so much to teach one another through our different experiences, and I think it is important to include the spiritual component in our offering to keep us from getting brainwashed!

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