I consider myself a Lent dropout, but that’s not entirely accurate, because I keep re-enrolling. I’m not so different from a lot of people, I’m sure.
I start off strong and motivated and full of ideas and plans and ways that this will be the Best! Lent! Ever!
Except I didn’t start out any of those things this year. This year, I started off weak-kneed and cowed and way off my game. This year, I was full of dread and trembling and fear.
I can’t even say why, except that I was in the midst of a bad stretch and…I just wasn’t on my game.
This year, as I near the end of my fourth pregnancy, juggle three kids and a busy work schedule and a ton of other things going on non-stop, I need the reminder I often give others about keeping Lent real: real for who I am this year, real for what my family needs from me, real for where I am in my spiritual journey at this moment in time.
The truth is, Lent can — and does — help me live my vocation as a wife and mom more fully and deeply. However much I may feel like I fail Lent, each failure brings me a step closer to success. It’s a lesson in humility, for sure, but it’s also a lesson in perseverance.
During Lent, I can learn lessons to help me become the woman that God intends me to be, but only — ONLY — if I keep it real.
In my ongoing journey through Lent, and especially this year as I’m ready to pop on so many levels, I’ve found that there is one person, more than any other, who helps me.
The image of Mary in all the artwork and icons and on the pedestals of churches around the world isn’t necessarily helpful when I’m looking for a mentor. Her hair, after all, is flawless. She looks so serene. There’s not a mess anywhere near her, and I just can’t relate. This is not a woman I know. In many ways, she’s not a woman I want to know: I am intimidated by what I see.
What I’m forgetting, looking at these images of The Perfect Mary, is that these are inspired and idealistic. They’re not so different from the author photo on the cover of my books. Do I look like that author photo? Well, yes, when I’m posing for a picture. The rest of the time, not so much.
Mary does not represent impossible perfection; she is the embodiment of grace in action. She had to feed her family, deal with single parenthood, juggle the demands of life in first century Palestine, stay out of the limelight, and face the torture of grief of her Son and his disciples.
Who better to turn to, then, this Lent?
Here are four ways to turn to Mary this Lent and keep things real.
Try a new devotion.
Inspired by Katie Warner, my devotion this year has been something that’s not necessarily new, though I’ve not done it this way before. I made a list of the 40 days of Lent and inserted names beside them. Then I assigned saints from my personal litany. Each day, I’m praying for that person and for that saint’s intercession.
For you, it may be praying a decade of the rosary or trying a Hail Mary at some set time of the day, like when you’re in the bathroom brushing your teeth. A few years ago, when I still lived in a house with stairs, I got in the habit of praying a Hail Mary whenever I went up or down the stairs.
The idea is to make the devotion and the prayer a habit. You want to walk away from Lent using Mary’s example — she was praying always, glorifying the Lord. Experiment and try a new devotion that will help you turn to God throughout your day.
Bless the ordinary and mundane moments.
There’s a lot more ordinary than exciting in my life, unless you count the puketivities and snowmaggedon. God so often speaks to me with soft little voices and tiny little cues, rather than fireworks and loud announcements.
I have more laundry than drama, so I might as well embrace what’s in front of me and let Mary show me how to use it to grow closer to God. I suspect she understands my qualms as I look at Mount Laundryest and wonder how we possibly created all that folding.
The dishes, the dinners, the endless paperwork: these are all opportunities to let Mary remind me how my soul, too, can magnify the Lord, even in the midst of dirty toilets and overflowing inboxes.
Use art and share it with the family.
It’s fun to look through old photo albums. I still grab boxes of old photos when I’m at my grandma’s and let her regale me with the stories behind them. My kids love to look at the scrapbooks I’ve made over the years, from my wedding album to the pictures of my college days.
A number of years ago, I was in my kitchen praying when my then-two-year-old came trotting in to sit with me. I had a book of Marian art beside me, because I was trying to use it to inspire my prayer time. She and I sat there and went through it, and it amazed me how she knew that the pictures were “Mama Mawy.” She didn’t need me to tell her. She knew already.
Lent isn’t a time to shun beauty, though we spend it in the desert. Find some Marian art, whether it’s from a book or from an online resource, and let it inspire you. Let those pictures remind you of the pretty and the beautiful, rather than intimidate you with images of perfection.
Keep it simple.
This should go without saying, but I need this particular reminder every year, without fail. The temptation is to see what the Perfect People are doing, to skim Pinterest and get overwhelmed, to beat myself up for all the things I don’t or can’t do.
But the truth is, there is plenty I can do, and the first is this: keep it simple. Keep what I’m doing with my kids simple. Keep what I’m doing for myself simple. Keep my whole approach simple.
Things have a way of getting complicated all by themselves.
The best way to keep Lent real, really, is to ask Mary to help you. In fact, she probably already has…