I don’t know about you, but as a striving Catholic, I often feel a lot of pressure during Advent and Lent. I feel like everyone expects each other to do really amazing Catholic things, to have a super profound advent or lenten experience, and to come out the other side stronger in their faith. In Lent we frequently ask each other “what are you giving up? Are you giving to charity? How are you gonna pray more?” and then proceed to list a litany of things, as if one thing each for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving isn’t enough. You only have to glance at a few Catholic websites to see a slew of blog posts on “the best things to give up for Lent this year,” “meaningful things to give up,” “how to make Lent great,” etc. Not to mention that I feel like I’ve also been bombarded by “Lenten resources”- i.e. here is a journal just for Lent, oh and read this book that is just for Lent, do you want a Lenten novena too?
Some of you may have heard of Best Advent Ever or Best Lent Ever, which really honestly seem awesome and I haven’t tried them yet so I can’t speak to them, but something about their title unnerves me…I feel like it settles a weight on my shoulders to make this liturgical season the best it has ever been for me. And if for some reason it isn’t the best i’ve ever had, then I have somehow failed to “do advent right” or “do lent right.” This pressure I feel psychs me out from approaching Advent or Lent with a truly open heart. It is three days before Ash Wednesday and I’m already freaking out because I haven’t “figured out what I’m doing for Lent yet.” Rather than making me want to prepare for the liturgical season and see this as an opportunity to deepen my relationship with Christ, this pressure I feel makes me want to run from it- scared of my own mediocracy.
Instead of being afraid of somehow failing to have the best Lent ever, I’m taking to heart a line from my Student Ministry Community’s covenant. Every year the community of Resident Minister’s write a covenant together at the very beginning of our ministry- it holds our promises to each other, to our selves, to our residents and most importantly to God about how we are going to live out this year of ministry and service. After writing almost a pages worth of covenant, we ended with “This is going to be a great year, but if not, that’s okay.” This phrase has kind of become a running joke in our community, but it speaks to something I think we all strongly believe: We have promised to give this year of ministry all we have; to work hard, to be devoted to prayer and our own relationships with God, to support each other in community and call each other to holiness, and we hope that we have fun in the process. BUT if for some reason at the end of the year we look back and the year wasn’t as fun, enjoyable or great as we expected…well, that is okay, because we have fulfilled our promises to one another and in some way, God’s will has prevailed.
I think this is the perspective I need for the upcoming Lenten season. I don’t want to pressure myself to make this the absolute best Lent I’ve ever had or challenge myself to do 500 awesome Catholic things. Rather, I want to commit myself to working hard at the few ways I feel God is calling me to deepen my relationship with Him this Lent, and, if for some reason at the end of Lent I do not feel like I succeeded at these things, well that’s okay. It is more important that I walk each day trying to discern what God is asking of me, and most likely failing to do that and getting up and trying again, than it is that I set some unrealistic goal for myself in the hopes of being the best ever.
Anyone else ever feel this way?