Last week, I was chugging along on my treadmill. The display told me I had one minute left. My first thought? "Aw, that's good enough. I should just quit now." I immediately chased off that stupid idea, and it was immediately replaced by another one: "Well, at least you can slow down for the last thirty seconds!"
Well, I didn't. If I had been smart, I would have cranked up the MPHs and added an extra ten minutes, just to show my stupid weasel brain who's the boss. As it was, I exerted all my willpower to finish the allotted time at the normal speed.
If we're talking about the treadmill, it really doesn't make much physical difference if I push myself for 29 minutes or 30. But what if we're beset with the same dumb urge to quit or slack off in the final week of Lent? When we're talking about psychological or spiritual benefits, the home stretch can be really meaningful. It's not time for building habits, it's time for showing your unwilling spirit who's boss. Here are a few ways you can push hard through Holy Week:
1.Say yes to all reasonable requests. It's simple: if someone asks you do to do something, cheefully agree if you possibly can. Even if it's inconvenient, even if it's not ideal, even if it's not fair or not what you agreed upon or not what you planned. Most of us don't get direct, explicit requests from God, so the best way to say "yes" to Him is to say "yes" to other people. Probably not a great idea if you're already prone to overextending yourself; but if, like me, you have the opposite problem, this could be an eye-opening exercise.
(N.B.: If you live with children or other unscrupulous types, it's probably best not to announce that this is your plan, unless you want to be exploited like crazy. Just do it without fanfare, and see what happens.)
2. Go silent. Holy Week is a very good week to turn down external things so we can hear God's voice. It's even possible to be so busy with good works and spiritual practices that we drown out God. In either case, it's helpful focus on cutting down literal sounds: turn off the news, turn off the music, even sacred music. Don't snap on the radio the minute you step into the car. Give your listening heart a fighting chance.
3. Go dark. We've done some form of screen-free Fridays during Lent. A few years ago, Jennifer Fulwiler tried something more radical: lights out for Lent. She says,
we committed to foregoing all electric sources of light after sundown approximately once a week—and this included not only overhead lights, but glowing screens like computers or televisions as well. For safety’s sake we did leave nightlights on in the hallways while we slept, but in terms of illuminating our evening activities, it was all candlelight. The impact it had on our lives was more powerful than I could have imagined.
Maybe not for all of Holy Week, but for Good Friday? Seems do-able.
4. Dig deep this week, give up something that really hurts, and give that money to the poor. What's essential for Easter? A new sweater to make your outfit perfect? A gourmet chocolate bunny which is so much better than the hollow kind? Can you think of a better use for that money?
5. Share your Easter. When the women realized that Jesus had risen, the first thing they did was run off to tell everybody else. This is not a day to hunker in our bunkers. Easter is for sharing! Keep your eyes open for someone to invite, whether your plans include hosting a giant feast or just going for a walk in the park on Sunday after Mass. Next time you're chatting with someone, ask if they have plans, and be ready to share your home and time.
7. Do the stations of the cross. If it's not available in your parish (or if your family's presence will make the experience too penitential for the rest of the parishioners), you can do this at home. Here is a standard version and here is a version for children.
8. Clean house. You're probably doing this anyway, if you are going to have guests for Easter. Do not, o thou man, forget to clean your interior house! Yes, even if you have no mortal sins on your soul. Most parishes are still offering last-minute confessions up until Holy Thursday -- and if they're not, drive to the next parish, or call your priest and ask if you can meet him.
9. Pray every day. Doesn't even have to be anything fancy, or special for Lent. Your own words are fine. Place yourself in the presence of God, and work your way through ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. Just do it every day this week. Do it. Just do it!
10. Keep your persepctive. We may be finishing up Lent, but Easter is not a one-day, make-or-break opportunity. A good Lent makes us into bigger vessels to receive grace, but even if we're still at low capacity, the grace will be there. It's never been about whether we've done enough to deserve God's grace. It's always been about whether we're smart enough to recognize a good deal when we see one.