"There are ways of being crucified that do not involve rough wood or heavy nails, but a love beyond our capacity to love, which means a love that has been given to us by God." -Catherine Doherty
Lent is here in full swing, so the question "what are you giving up for Lent?" may be inevitable in your Catholic conversations. Deciding what you will give up (or take on!) for Lent is a hard decision. How can you grow close to God? What can you give up in order to grow deeper in your relationship with Him?
I've been guilty of not putting a lot of thought into my Lenten sacrifices. But in the past year, I've known the depths of suffering and sacrifice more than I thought possible. Our son, Marion, passed away in a miscarriage last March - right in the middle of Lent. Instead of surprising our family at Easter with news of a little on the way, we planned Marion's memorial Mass. That year, Lent and Holy Week took on a whole new meaning.
In the week leading up to the miscarriage, our doctor had warned us that we may lose our son. So we told friends and family about Marion and our pregnancy. Hundreds of friends had gathered around us. What a better time for a miracle, God, than the weeks leading up to the celebration of your own son's defeat over death? But a week later, we were at the hospital, the nurses telling us that our sweet boy was gone.
The week we returned to Mass after losing Marion, in what seemed like a cruel twist, the Gospel was from John - the story of Lazarus. Lazarus lay in the tomb, he had died four days before. Christ journeys to the tomb. Martha runs out to meet the Lord and says: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
We had just spent weeks begging God for my son's life - if He would have answered, Marion wouldn't have died. Why Lazarus and not Marion? Why were Martha's prayers answered, not mine? Then it came time for the homily, and, as if the words were meant specifically for my heart, our priest challenged us and asked us what we were giving up for Lent that year.
He talked about how it could be our default to give up things we love - coffee, food, time relaxing. But instead of giving up something that we enjoyed, he challenged us with something much more heart-wrenching and challenging. He asked us to give God back the one area of our life where God has disappointed us the most.
So that Lent, I gave Marion back to God. Then, slowly, I gave God the one area that I didn't want to trust with Him - my family. My fertility. The plans I had for Joseph and my life together. That Lent, I gave God back the area of my life where He had disappointed me the most.
Marion's death wasn't because God didn't hear our prayers, or a mistake because God didn't make it to our hospital bed in time. God didn't forget us, or ignore us during our time of loss. He cried alongside us, knowing exactly what the heart feels like when it loses a child. Then, after crying with us, He reminded us of the Resurrection to come on Easter morning.
I don't know where you're at with your Lenten sacrifice, or how your Lent is going. Perhaps you chose this year's sacrifice. Maybe your Lent chose you this year. Wherever you are in this Lenten desert, I want to take a few minutes and challenge you, just like I was challenged last year in the midst of the hardest Lent of my life.
What area do you withhold from God because you're afraid that, if you give it over to Him in surrender, He'll disappoint you?
Are you fiercely clinging to your family planning because your heart has been shredded by loss? Are you hesitant to give Him your vocation because you're worried what His answer will be? What area of your life have you sworn to never let go because thinking of what God could do in that area makes your heart ache?
That's what He's calling you to give back to Him this Lent. Will you?
Want to dig deeper into the word of God this Lent? Try Above All, a Lenten journal from Take Up and Read. Find out more by clicking on the picture of the journal below: