Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
This has been a strange Lent—my first while living with multiple chronic illnesses, ones that I can hopefully recover from. One illness has already caused me to give up most good foods, so I decided to focus on growing in temperance in other ways. I have tried this only to find that I am too weak to even do these small things.
Usually I sit down and make a list of foods to give up and succeed in carrying out my plans. I used to brag that if I gave it up for Lent, I would never fail. This year I made a list of resolutions, things like going to bed earlier and waking up at a set time and plans to moderate my social media use. But what I learned was my own helplessness, my own dependence on God, and my inability to do these things even when I surrender entirely to him.
I found that he was leading me beyond my own little failings in my intemperance as I checked my social media notifications for the umpteenth time and as I hit the snooze button for healthful sleep. Sometimes taking up my cross means going along with my weaknesses weighing me down while the Lord walks beside me with his heavier cross. Sometimes it means I hold my cross and he carries me. Sometimes it means I am crumpled on the ground with my cross lying beside me and staring up at him in my helplessness.
I felt at the beginning of Lent, God was leading me to give him my imperfections, hoping he would do something with them. These words from the book In Sinu Jesu from Our Lord to a Benedictine Monk still ring so true:
Never think that your imperfections and failures are, in any way, an impediment to the work of My merciful love in your soul. You have only to give them to Me with confidence and they are consumed in the blaze of My Heart’s love for you. When I ask certain things of you, it is not to burden you, but to offer you a sure way of obtaining the support of My grace.” (p. 58)
In my failures I become more dependent on him, but this is where I should be. This is where we all should be, aware of our own helplessness to do good without his help. As a perfectionist, my cross this Lent is my continual failure to live up to my goals for myself. As a daughter of God, I am learning to surrender my own failures to him, to give up my meticulous will to his generous will, which overflows in love for me.
He tells me that the cross of learning to wait for healing is enough. The cross of being brave for my children when the months of illness have no end is enough. The cross of helping my children suffer because their mother is suffering is enough. The cross of seeing my husband long for me to be well is enough. The cross I have today is more than enough for me to carry. In fact I cannot carry it alone.
St. Paul tells us, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). This suffering we bear with hope does seem like folly to the world who does not believe that he rose again. But when we embrace the gift of faith he offers to all who will accept it the cross becomes powerful. It transforms our existence.
This Triduum, take the sufferings you have borne voluntarily or passively and your Lenten failings to the Way of the Cross. Carry them beside your suffering Lord. Allow them to become his suffering. He who makes all things new, wants to bear them for you. Stand at the foot of the Cross with his mother and feel the mercy pour out of his side over you. And remember his words, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).