A few years ago, my Lent began in an unfamiliar house, face-to-face with a woman who was living my nightmare.
On Epiphany that year, my sister-in-law faced a horror I still can’t imagine, one that topped her list of sorrows and that changed my prayer life forever.
When her husband, my brother-in-law, died suddenly and unexpectedly, it felt like Lent had already begun in January. In fact, it felt a lot like Good Friday, stretched out over weeks.
And then I went to Mardi Gras, that grand celebration before the official start of Lent.
At the parade where her husband should have been, I saw the crack in her “I’m fine” façade and my heart broke again. During the Ash Wednesday service, I felt the pang of “To dust you shall return” as I never had before. In my early morning prayer sessions and the evening chaos at her house, I felt Mary’s hand in mine.
She’s not a distant figure from two thousand years ago. She’s not a woman on a pedestal in my parish church. She’s not an image of perfection that’s impossible to attain.
Instead, she’s covered in dust and shaking with silent sobs. Her hands are clasped, and perhaps the only prayer she can find words to is the line from Psalm 13: “How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
This isn’t a woman who’s been protected from life and sheltered from reality. Here’s someone who has learned to feed her family, bear single parenthood, juggle the demands of her Son’s mission while staying out of the limelight herself, and has faced torture and grief in ways none of us can appreciate.
Who better to turn to during Lent, then, than Mary?
Try a new devotion.
Maybe you can spare less than five minutes for the Little Crown of the Blessed Virgin, which is easily prayed on your fingers during a shower. Perhaps the novena (nine day prayer) to the Virgin Mary as the Undoer of Knots speaks to the challenges you face or intentions you hold dear.
It might just be a one-line prayer, asking for Mary’s help, like the one I use quite often: “Mother Mary, guide me to Jesus, lead me to God, HELP ME RIGHT NOW!”
Whatever you choose, don’t overwhelm yourself. Let your devotion grow, watered by the habit of doing it daily. Devotion to Mary can draw us deeper into the life of Christ, if we let it, and help us participate in His life.
Bless the ordinary tasks and mundane moments.
Whether it’s dishes or diapers, phone calls or filing, spreadsheets or silence, you can welcome Mary to be a part of your day. You might work on memorizing part of one of the Psalms – as a devout Jewish girl and woman, Mary surely prayed the Psalms – and using it as the refrain for those moments when you’re most tempted to throw up your hands in frustration.
Life is composed more of the ordinary and mundane than it is the exciting and overwhelming. We have far more laundry than drama over the course of our lives. There’s no reason, though, that we can’t bless those times and gain deeper spiritual advancement from them.
Look to art and involve the whole family.
One moring a few years ago, my two-year-old came downstairs, shattering the quiet of my morning devotions with her demands to be picked up and snuggled. On the table beside me was a book I had borrowed from my mother-in-law, filled with images of the Virgin Mary in famous art. I had meant to use it as a guide during my quiet time.
Instead, I turned through it with small fingers pointing to “Mudder Mawey” on every page. We didn’t go through it in order, and I didn’t have a chance to read all the fine print.
In that fifteen minutes, though, I gained a new perspective on my heavenly Mother. Not only has she been admired through the centuries and honored with lovely paintings, my two-year-old can appreciate it, if I give her a chance. So go to your library, click around online (like on the Mary Page’s gallery) or dig out a favorite picture book and involve the kids this Lent. It’s amazing the impact pictures can have on our devotion!
Ask for her help.
There is no shortage of online resources (including Celebrating Lent with Mary), no lack of books, no absence of ideas. And here is where I find my weakness: the desire to do too much.
Ask Mary to help you. She will. In fact, if you pay attention, she probably already has.