Everyone wants to go deeper into the desert each Lent, to somehow “get Lent right.” However, it isn’t a recipe or even a process, but a surrender. We may start with big intentions, and find ourselves doing something very small. It is the effort behind willing ourselves toward God and cooperating with God’s grace that leads us deeper and deeper in, not the bigness or littleness of our plan.
There are countless forms of little deaths, of embracing a mere splinter of the cross for Lent, but what matters is the predisposition we bring to that cross. So how do we get to that disposition?
(1) Do an examination of conscience. Consider your vices and your pattern of vices.
(2) Get to confession and be specific with your priest about the desire to somehow lessen the grip of habitual sin from your daily life.
(3) Enlist the help of aspiring and existing saints. Tell your family your weakness and ask them to pray with and for you. Tell your extended family (the community of saints, of your hopes and needs and ask them to pray with and for you as well).
(4) Create a plan for when whatever it is that you struggle with, most often becomes a reality. When dieting, I recognized I like sweets, particularly in the afternoon when I’m tired from the work of the day. So I’ve told my kiddos to remind me to drink a big glass of ice water and to invite me to go for a walk when I’d be most tempted to snack. The same principle applies to any temptation, from gossiping to spending too much time online, to not seeking to spend time with others. If we create a plan, we have an action to do instead of what has become habit. So post your Lenten resolution and your plan if need be, on your computer, on your refrigerator and as the screen saver of your phone.
(5) Recognize that this is a process of being hollowed out, of recognizing we cannot do anything without God’s grace, and becoming more and more in awe of how much grace we are given each and every day. You will mess up. Each time, go back to the prayer of the Centurion. “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and your servant shall be healed.” And begin again.
Some years, one may be called to a big Lent, and others, a small one. It isn’t a competition even with ourselves over past seasons of penance. What Lent is, is a seasonal way of drawing us nearer to the one who is love. The Israelites went into the desert for 40 years, to come to know and trust God enough to enter the promise land. Jesus entered the desert for 40 days to enter fully into His ministry. We enter Lent to know more clearly and dearly why Christ underwent His passion and death for us. We need to trust that God wants us close to Him even more than we desire it in our hearts, and to know God will work with us to burn away all these faults, these grievous faults, so that we can come to the great wedding feast of Easter properly attired.