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This Lent, try becoming empty

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Make room in your soul for God

Ash Wednesday is March 1 this year. There are scads of articles on how to have a good Lent, with handy lists of good options for putting into practice the three traditional recommendations for Lent: prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving.

Giving up screens, volunteering at a soup kitchen, praying a daily rosary, making a holy hour, reading a book written by a saint, spending time with Scripture … there are countless ways to seek to deepen our relationship with God, and in the process, weaken our addiction to sin.

What matters first is the desire. What do we want from Lent? If the answer is to grow in faith, to encounter God, and weaken one’s own will in order to submit to God’s, we should prepare by discerning, where am I weak? Where am I refusing God? How am I refusing God?

Suggested Lenten Reading for 2017

If you don’t know the answers, look at the Blessed Mother. She stands as a brilliant contrast to any other soul in her perfect discipleship. Mary is obedient. Her heart is open to the word of God. Mary is gentle. Mary is a servant. Mary is patient. Mary forbears in the face of grave suffering, and graver injustice. Mary ministers to others. Mary is courageous. Mary stays when it is hard.

If I substitute my own name, I will know instantly not just that I miss the mark (and in epic fashion), but that I constantly miss the mark. Yet Mary can lead us to choose a particular area that might especially be keeping us from her Son. We can also ask ourselves, “What would my spouse and my children like to see in me at the end of this Lent? What change could I make in myself that would be a gift for them?”

Now, we have the what we must do, and with Ash Wednesday, we must begin, in earnest, to do it. In fact, we could really go ahead and get started now.

This year, I’m trying something different. Instead of taking on something new, I’m focusing on emptying out — and allowing myself to ache with the emptiness.

It is not an easy process. As a teen, I gave up chocolate one year. But then I substituted other sweets. I’d merely switched addictions, rather than allowing an absence to call attention to the goal of Lent.

How can we really become empty, ready to be filled with God?

We must allow ourselves to feel the ache. So if we are going to fast from soda or sweets, let us not compensate with coffee or salty snacks. Allow yourself to experience the discomfort of want. If we consider Lent to be a journey into the desert of our souls, we have to allow for our skin to get parched, to feel dryness. We have to dig a hole in our heart to uproot sin, and leave the hole for God to fill.

I will be visiting the adoration chapel every day, in an attempt to let Jesus get a look at me, and burn away that which keeps me trapped in my own petty ways, my own fears and my own desires for comfort. I’ve discovered in my early attempts at time with him that I fare little better than the apostles in Gethsemane. I fall asleep, my mind wanders, and I sometimes find myself making to-do lists. But sitting before Jesus is a process of learning to be emptied out, and to be comfortable with that emptiness, knowing it’s for him to fill.

Learning to be present is teaching me how I am to sit with my own children, at the homework table, or in the car. They come wanting help and attention, sure, but more than that, they want my presence. They too are giving me a chance to adore him, by giving them my first fruits of time. It is an emptying out process, because I often want to multi-task when they come to me, or to finish up so I can do other things. Jesus is trying to teach me, no. Do this one thing. The rest is unimportant. Stop filling the space I’ve made for your heart with papers and errands and distractions.

Lent is coming. Resolve this year to be emptied out, to make room in your soul for God to bring about great work.

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