This Lent, the big issue I am struggling with or rather striving toward, is greater control over mind and body: Denying that which earthly things desire in favor for that which my soul — and the Holy Spirit — desires. Wow, what a task!
After reading “The Story of a Soul” by Saint Therese of Lisieux, I have adopted the technique of trying to gain more control over small things first… I’ll get to the bigger things later :). She made every act of her life a way to glorify God whether it was holding her tongue with a fellow Sister whom her body/mind found disagreeable or denying herself a small pleasure.
I never quite understood the “giving up” part of Lent until this year. Why exactly did I need to give up soda during Lent? I always thought of it as a sacrifice really, but I think I missed the mark. The “giving up” of something is really about mastering self-control over what your body and mind want. With control, over time, you develop the capacity to follow the Spirit instead of giving into the whims of the body.
This Lent I’ve tried to work on denying myself little by little during everyday life, and, yes, food comes into play a lot for me. I’ve decided not just to abstain from meat on Fridays but to fast every Friday. For me, that means 3 small meals a day (like a PBJ, a scrambled egg or a waffle) with no snacking in between. The Church defines fasting as one main meal and two smaller meals that together do not equal more than the main meal.
I’ve started to enjoy watching myself grow hungry and seeing my ability to control my desire to head to the pantry for a Girl Scout cookie, and, let me tell you, sometimes that’s quite a fight! Saint Therese took great joy in her denials of self and I hope I can develop that capacity for joy in denial over time.
While food can be an obvious way to develop these muscles of self-control, because it is tangible and you can physically feel the result of your control, there are plenty of other ways to work on this, as well.
For example, I am really trying to work on complaining and when that desire to complain pops in my head to stop and examine why it is that I need someone else to hear this negative thought. It must come down to pride, wanting someone else to feel/think something about me and how much I have done or how wonderful I am to have suffered, right?
The Church, in fact, teaches that when fasting or working on self-denial, you don’t boast about it or even tell others about it. The point is not to be commended for your control but rather just to build it up — no one needs to know. So if I can recognize this desire of mine, I can see it for what it is and let it pass and try to resist making the statement.
Another one is holding my tongue when I lose patience with my children. Patience is certainly one of the virtues I greatly need to work on. So it is a great struggle to control the anger and louder voice that wants to come screaming out of my mouth about a hundred times a day during daily life with two busy, active little boys.
By no stretch will I perfect any of these issues, but I hope come the end of Lent, I will have developed a little more self-control over all areas of my life by diligently being mindful during this period. I have a long road ahead of me, but that’s what the Christian life is all about isn’t it? The continual conversion of self toward becoming the saint God wants us to be…