We have 325 days, from the time Lent ends one year until it begins the next year, to think about what we will do; yet here I am once again, as always, still trying to figure it out on Ash Wednesday. After all of these years on this earth, you would think I’d be better at this. You would think that I would have a list of a dozen things to choose from. Give up this, add that, emphasize this, read that. But no, it never comes easily for me. I struggle with the Lenten decision well into the forty days, always wondering if I’ve made the right choice, if it’s having any effect on me, if it’s at all pleasing to God.
And I realize that it’s not just during Lent that this happens. And it’s not just me. It’s not just Catholics or other Lent-observing Christians. I think we all spend 365 days a year questioning ourselves, our actions, and our intentions, wondering if we are doing the right thing, using the right words, making the right choices, and spending our time wisely.
I ask myself, why do I always doubt and worry whether what I do or say is good enough?
And then it dawns on me, and I wonder, is it really that simple? Is it true that all we have to do is…
accept that we are flawed, that we are human, that we make mistakes, that we don’t always choose wisely, that we often look for the wrong answers in the wrong places and in the wrong ways, and that it’s okay? We are’t perfect and won’t be until we enter Heaven.
But that’s okay because we are loved anyway.
I mess up all the time. I’m constantly making parenting mistakes, and you know what? My girls shrug it off and say, it’s okay.
I say things to my husband that I don’t mean. I forget to do things I’ve promised. I do things I shouldn’t without thinking. We sometimes get into it over what I’ve done or said (and the same for him and what he’s done or said), but we forgive and forget and continue to love.
My father and I sometimes argue. Yep, even at this age and stage of my life. We are so very much alike which means we often butt heads. But my father’s love is unconditional.
And our Father’s love is unconditional.
I think the truth is, God doesn’t really care what I do or don’t do for Lent. He’s not going to greet me at the pearly gates and say, “You had a pitiful Lent back in the year 2019”–which I did–“You’re not welcome here.” He’s not going to judge me based on how well I stayed away from ice cream and cookies or how many Fridays I accidentally ate meat or how many religious books I read.
But he is going to judge me on how I treated others, how well I worked to spread the word about His kingdom, and how hard I tried to foster and maintain a relationship with Him. And He’s going to judge me on how well I did those things every single day, not just for the forty days before Easter.
On the most basic level, God doesn’t ask any more of us than our families, friends, and neighbors ask of us. We are expected to be kind, loving, generous, and other-centered. We are to look after the welfare of others, especially those unable to look after themselves. We are to help those in need. We are to try to make the world a better place for all people. We are to look past our own needs and ask what more we can do for the homeless, the hungry, the elderly, and the unborn.
Then, when we accept those expectations and live up to them, we are asked to do more. We are asked to go above and beyond our capabilities, but we are never asked to do more than we are able to do by those who love us. If we are, then that is not love.
St. Paul tells us that “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
So this year, I will stop using Lent as an excuse to go beyond my capabilities. Instead, I will think about, realistically, what my highest capacity for giving is. Can I give more time to help others? Can I give more time to God? Can I give more time to my family? Can I give more money to the poor? Can I give more attention to my faith? Can I give more of an effort to my church? Can I find more time for peace and solitude so that I can hear God’s words in my life?
Then I will pray for wisdom to know how to give just a little more. Not enough to exhaust me or cause me to fail, just enough to be able to say, Lent in the year 2020 was a success.
And then I will try to continue giving throughout the year. After all, that is the true purpose of Lent. It’s not to lose weight or see how many spiritual books we can read or stop smoking or stop biting nails. It’s about changing, growing, and maturing as a person of faith and in our relationship with God.
It’s about reaching for the heavenly idea of the perfect self in an imperfect world, knowing that we have a lifetime to achieve it but just a fraction of eternity to live it out. As my sister-in-law reminded our Bible Study group on Monday night, Lent is about choosing something that will bring good into your life that will become a part of you as you go forward, long after the forty days are over.
And that’s something we should all strive for in every area of our lives, 365 days a year.
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What I was writing about a year ago this week: A World of Kindness.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy is available as a complete set for your Kindle and is also available on audio!
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019).