Feb 26, 2017 filed under Courage, Temperance.

I spent Friday and Saturday at a teaching conference in Baltimore. As usual, I bought too many books. One of them, Freedom from Sinful Thoughts, by J. Heinrich Arnold, brought me up short. “[Being] poor in spirit,” he writes, “means readying ourselves for God as we truly are…rather than ‘fixing ourselves up for him.’” As Lent approaches, “fixing ourselves up” is on our minds. Is that bad? Aren’t we supposed to be shedding our bad habits of sin (vice) and replacing them with good habits of virtue? I admit that sometimes I treat growth in virtue like a construction project. Shoring up a weak foundation here, plastering over some cracks there. Maybe what Arnold means is that renovation work is good, but we also need to keep track of who the real foreman is in this project. Here’s how Father John Langlois, OP, defines the purpose of our Lenten “project”: “Lent is a special penitential season when we mourn our sins and seek to draw closer to the Lord as we prepare for the great feast of Easter. To take on a special penance…[expresses] regret for past sins and…a desire for conversion. It is also a way of detaching ourselves from material…consolations to grow in desire for God and things of the Spirit.” Lenten renovation project Are you still deciding what “renovation project” you’ll concentrate on to grow in desire for God? Me too. Normally, I give up sweets – it’s a pattern-interrupter that reminds me many times every day how good God is and how I can take his sweetness for granted. But I’m considering two other ideas. The first is from Father John, who says this penance has been especially fruitful for him. “Rather than choosing a penance for yourself, allow God to choose a daily penance for you and then say ‘yes’ to that!...[A]ccept the daily inconveniences, trials, disappointments, and frustrations that come your way without…complaint…[I]f you wholeheartedly embrace this form of penance you will find yourself in a true battle with your rebellious self….” That reminds me of something the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J., said: “If you want to be holy, stop complaining.” Give up complaining for Lent? Are you up for the challenge? The second idea is from Father Bill Wadsworth, who suggests giving up “a sin that you are good at….a favorite sin that we just love to commit.” Think gossip or procrastination. He adds, “It probably will be really hard, but that’s a good thing!” I’m assuming Father Bill has tried this for 40 days and survived. Don’t leave the foreman out We live in a universe of both/and rather than either/or. Christ both God and man. Mary both virgin and mother. We simultaneously live in time and eternity. Something of this mystery is reflected in nature – the acorn is both an acorn and the blueprint for turning into something else – a majestic oak tree. And we take for granted that the sun is shining as brightly as ever, even when all we can see are dark rainclouds. So are we supposed to be “fixing ourselves up” during Lent or “accepting ourselves as we are”? Yes and yes. Both/and. Arnold writes that we need to avoid thoughts that lead to our bad habits, but not to get anxious in the process. Because trying to heal ourselves by ourselves will make us anxious. Believing that God won’t love us if bad habits still cling to us would make it all about us. But it’s not. It’s about God’s powerful healing mercy. It requires honesty and humility to “ready ourselves for God as we truly are,” because half the battle is naming the habit that needs healing! The other half is allowing God to do His work in us, even if that involves the pain of “knocking down a wall” when He removes a habit, like complaining, that we’ve used for support and then, little by little, shows us how to stand firm in freedom without it. Psalm 23 famously asks, “Who will climb the mountain of the Lord? Who will stand in his holy place? The one who is innocent of wrongdoing and pure of heart….” Jesus is the only one who fits that description. But luckily, we’re members of his body. In renovating the house of our soul, he’s the foreman. If we stick with him and do our part, he will renovate us into himself. He will guide us up the mountain if we hold his hand. Arnold sums it up this way: “this is the root of grace: the dismantling of our power.” That is, in releasing our small, willful power, we gain the infinite power of God to love and be loved. May we all discover more of that power in the coming 40 days of Lent. Love always, Rose Rose Folsom rose(at)virtueconnection.com

I spent Friday and Saturday at a teaching conference in Baltimore. As usual, I bought too many books. One of them, Freedom from Sinful Thoughts, by J. Heinrich Arnold, brought me up short. “[Being] poor in spirit,” he writes, “means readying ourselves for God as we truly are…rather than ‘fixing ourselves up for him.’”

As Lent approaches, “fixing ourselves up” is on our minds. Is that bad? Aren’t we supposed to be shedding our bad habits of sin (vice) and replacing them with good habits of virtue?

I admit that sometimes I treat growth in virtue like a construction project. Shoring up a weak foundation here, plastering over some cracks there. Maybe what Arnold means is that renovation work is good, but we also need to keep track of who the real foreman is in this project.

Here’s how Father John Langlois, OP, defines the purpose of our Lenten “project”: “Lent is a special penitential season when we mourn our sins and seek to draw closer to the Lord as we prepare for the great feast of Easter. To take on a special penance…[expresses] regret for past sins and…a desire for conversion. It is also a way of detaching ourselves from material…consolations to grow in desire for God and things of the Spirit.”

Lenten renovation project

Are you still deciding what “renovation project” you’ll concentrate on to grow in desire for God? Me too. Normally, I give up sweets – it’s a pattern-interrupter that reminds me many times every day how good God is and how I can take his sweetness for granted. But I’m considering two other ideas.

The first is from Father John, who says this penance has been especially fruitful for him. “Rather than choosing a penance for yourself, allow God to choose a daily penance for you and then say ‘yes’ to that!…[A]ccept the daily inconveniences, trials, disappointments, and frustrations that come your way without…complaint…[I]f you wholeheartedly embrace this form of penance you will find yourself in a true battle with your rebellious self….”

That reminds me of something the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J., said: “If you want to be holy, stop complaining.” Give up complaining for Lent? Are you up for the challenge?

The second idea is from Father Bill Wadsworth, who suggests giving up “a sin that you are good at….a favorite sin that we just love to commit.” Think gossip or procrastination. He adds, “It probably will be really hard, but that’s a good thing!” I’m assuming Father Bill has tried this for 40 days and survived.

Don’t leave the foreman out

We live in a universe of both/and rather than either/or. Christ both God and man. Mary both virgin and mother. We simultaneously live in time and eternity. Something of this mystery is reflected in nature – the acorn is both an acorn and the blueprint for turning into something else – a majestic oak tree. And we take for granted that the sun is shining as brightly as ever, even when all we can see are dark rainclouds.

So are we supposed to be “fixing ourselves up” during Lent or “accepting ourselves as we are”? Yes and yes. Both/and. Arnold writes that we need to avoid thoughts that lead to our bad habits, but not to get anxious in the process.

Because trying to heal ourselves by ourselves will make us anxious. Believing that God won’t love us if bad habits still cling to us would make it all about us. But it’s not. It’s about God’s powerful healing mercy.

It requires honesty and humility to “ready ourselves for God as we truly are,” because half the battle is naming the habit that needs healing! The other half is allowing God to do His work in us, even if that involves the pain of “knocking down a wall” when He removes a habit, like complaining, that we’ve used for support and then, little by little, shows us how to stand firm in freedom without it.

Psalm 23 famously asks, “Who will climb the mountain of the Lord? Who will stand in his holy place? The one who is innocent of wrongdoing and pure of heart….” Jesus is the only one who fits that description. But luckily, we’re members of his body. In renovating the house of our soul, he’s the foreman. If we stick with him and do our part, he will renovate us into himself. He will guide us up the mountain if we hold his hand.

Arnold sums it up this way: “this is the root of grace: the dismantling of our power.” That is, in releasing our small, willful power, we gain the infinite power of God to love and be loved. May we all discover more of that power in the coming 40 days of Lent.

Love always,
Rose Folsom

P.S. If you scroll down and leave a comment on which idea sounds better to you, it may tip the scales on what I decide for my Lenten project! I’d love to hear what you think — or share other Lenten ideas that have been fruitful for you. :)

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12 Responses to “Lenten Renovation Ideas: Are You Up for the Challenge?”

  1. Kate Brown

    Beautiful post! I am not someone who gives up or takes on during Lent, I am someone who uses Lent to feel closer to God. As such, Ash Wednesday is my favorite service of the year. Everything is stripped away, and all that is left is one human connecting with the Divine. No pretense. So, I especially love this post and I’m still chewing on “this is the root of grace…the dismantling of our power.” You have given me much to think about…my favorite part of Lent. And my favorite part of your blog!

    Reply
    • Rose Folsom

      Kate,
      “One human connecting with the Divine.” What a beautiful way to put it. Thanks for sharing your stress-free approach to letting God work in you, with you staying near Him to receive His grace.
      Rose

      Reply
  2. Gretchen Elson

    Your posts always open up a new way of thinking for me, an alternative way of seeing things. I too always give up sugar for Lent but also challenge myself to do something positive each day, something I normally would put off or think of doing but never actually do. Your two ideas, particularly the first, are appealing to me, reminiscent of childhood days when I would “offer up” things I did not want to do. Perhaps I will try this return to childhood by accepting daily difficulties without complaint. I have 2+ days to strengthen my resolve. Here is praying my devotion proves strong enough.

    Reply
    • Rose Folsom

      Gretchen,
      You have my prayers that whatever God inspires us to give him as a “token of love” this Lent, we will follow through with a light heart, humor, and lots of gratitude!
      Rose

      Reply
  3. Mary Kay Kuenzi

    I like Father John’s idea of letting God choose our penance for each day and saying “yes” to that. I would never have thought of that idea on my own. Thank you Rose for sharing many wonderful ideas with us.

    Reply
  4. Tom Roberts

    I have to admit I know more about what Lent isn’t than about what it is. When our new bishop came to town in 2002 and I went to hear him talk he said “Lent isn’t about giving up candy. Eat the whole box!” While I pondered that, his next few sentences went whizzing by. I missed the message!

    Lent seems to be about giving up something; “What are you giving up for lent?” Preparing to give it up can be a lengthy process. In New Orleans, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is a seven week long carnival (carnival: “Goodbye to meat”). It’s a kind of licensed overdose of pleasures of the flesh. In my home state meatless Fridays are year-round. Our favorite restaurant featured a seafood smorgasbord, hardly a sacrifice. Lobster fills the requirement of a meatless Friday.

    Your phrase “fixing ourselves up” caught my attention. You go on to say “I admit that sometimes I treat growth in virtue like a construction project. Shoring up a weak foundation here, plastering over some cracks there.” These are the things you do when you want to flip a house. In Wall Street terms it’s “Putting lipstick on a pig.” But as you go on to say “. … But we also need to keep track of who is the real foreman on this project.”

    As a man I understand projects. Father John Langlois’ suggestion provides the marching orders I need: “Rather than choosing a penance for yourself, allow God to choose a daily penance for you and then say ‘yes’ to that! … [A]ccept the daily inconveniences, trials,disappointments, and frustrations that come your way without…complaint… [I]f you wholeheartedly embrace this form of penance you will find yourself in a true battle with your rebellious self….” This beats the penance of lobster on Fridays.

    Reply
    • Rose Folsom

      Tom,
      Since our rebellious self (which is also rebellion against ourselves, against our best interests) is hard to face, this has to be a fruitful penance. After reading readers’ comments, I think I will accept this practice for Lent and keep a record of at least one instance each day that I practiced it — to make sure I’m really doing it! And try to build up the number from one per day as the weeks go by.
      Rose

      Reply
  5. Irmgard Baynes

    thanks for these thoughts about lent. this is what touched me today especially, giving up sweets and instead meditate or “taste” God’s sweetness and goodness.
    A renewed focus on taking daily challenges to be grateful for, no matter what, is always good and a period of 40 days to practice might turn it into a good habit …
    Your blog gave me today the needed spiritual lift. I needed
    thanks,

    Reply
  6. Vanessa Parks

    Rose,
    Thank-you very much for the Lenten Challenge. At the beginning of every Lenten season I am bewildered and anxious as to what I should give up a way of a deep penance. I have decided to leave it The Lord via daily trials, inconveniences and tribulations to set the path for continual conversion.

    God Bless
    Love
    Your Sister in Christ
    Vanessa

    Reply
    • Rose Folsom

      Vanessa,
      Fr. John’s idea resonated with so many people. I will be joining you in that and look forward to hearing everyone’s experiences with it.
      Wishing you the richest blessings of Lent,
      Rose

      Reply

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