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Why my Lenten failures were God’s success

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Magdalena Prokop-Duchnowska - published on 04/12/23

"If you want to change the world," said Mother Teresa, "go home and love your family." Could I think of a better and more practical task for Lent?

Participating in a day of reflection, ticking off tasks from my Lenten to-do list for each day, and some valuable spiritual reading: That was my plan for Lent. Now Lent is over, and did I manage to tick off this year’s goals? Well, no. As it happened, I didn’t fulfill a single one.

Failed Lenten resolutions?

Is that a bad thing? On the contrary: it turned out to be – both for me and my family – the best solution. The reason is simple. If I had focused on seeking pious moments alone with God or on reading an edifying spiritual book, it would’ve been easier for me to overlook what is most important: in this case, my loved ones. Not only that: I would’ve treated every request, need, or attempt at contact on their part as an obstacle to deepening my personal relationship with Jesus. And I guess that’s not the way to conversion, is it? 

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Probably most of us have experienced the meaning of these words in practice. I definitely have, and many times. And although my Lenten goals were certainly not funny, God decided to modify them a bit anyway.

The first to fall was my Lenten daily to-do list, which our five-year-old scissors enthusiast pulled surreptitiously from a drawer and cut into pieces. Then, just before the day of reflection, we were hit by a nasty virus that knocked our entire family off their feet. “Okay, at least I’ll have time to read,” I said, trying to grasp at the last vestige of my plan. I didn’t have to wait long for acute conjunctivitis (which then dragged on for weeks!) to painfully bring me and my plans down to earth.   

God’s plans

As it turned out later: God’s plan had nothing to do with the one I had formed in my head some time ago. Cleaning up more vomit from the floor, constantly trying to bring down 104º degree fevers, and vigilantly listening for breathing that might be too shallow, fast, and loud; cuddling, stroking, and endlessly lulling to sleep … So I spent day after day. Another attempt to finish writing the same sentence, thwarted. Again, I had to take my eyes off the computer and stick a slice of bread in the toaster, pour a glass of water, fry a pancake, or help find a red race car. This – in a nutshell – is what my preparation for Easter was supposed to look like. 

Did I enjoy it? Not a bit. Was it good for me? And how! Of course I would’ve preferred to work in silence and concentration. Sure, I needed formation and a day spent in prayer and listening to good spiritual content. Getting out of the house, taking a break from the kids and talking to good, godly people – all of this was very, very necessary for me. Only, under the circumstances I might not have heard what spoke to me so powerfully from the depths of gray, difficult, and repetitive daily life.

If I had been among those good people, but not had my sick children with me, whom I was supposed to take care of at the time, perhaps I would’ve missed something very, very important. Perhaps I wouldn’t have experienced the value hidden in giving medicine, cutting the hundredth apple, or spreading butter on the thousandth slice of bread. And it’s not that these activities are somehow eminently valuable – at least not by themselves. They take on a special power when they are performed with love and made of that love.  

Love in gray everyday life

Love in ordinary, gray everyday life. This is what God redirected my attention to. Love that serves not through some grand, dramatic gestures, but through small routine actions and duties. Things that are all the more valuable because they often go unnoticed and unappreciated. I was falling on my face with fatigue, but I read a bedtime book. I had to rush to run my errands, but I took a few minutes longer to massage the little back of one of my children. Everything inside me boiled over when I heard another, “Mommmyyyyy!” from downstairs, but I resisted, holding back a burst of anger. 

“If you want to change the world,” said St. Teresa of Calcutta, “go home and love your family.” Could I have thought of a better and more practical task for Lent? May the habits of small gestures of love built during those 40 days enter my blood and stay with me in my family forever.

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