My Biggest Lent Fails and How I Learned Mortification Without Suffering (Almost)

I have already posted about our family's Lent undertakings. And what I'm doing this year. But not everything I have tried to do (or not do) for Lent has worked. Today, you get to hear about what I don't do during Lent, what I avoid not doing during Lent, things I tried not doing but couldn't, and how I find mortification without suffering except in relation to Dr. Pepper. All clear? No? Well, let's just get on with it.

The thing I like about Lent is that it is a fixed time period in which to try adding or subtracting something from my life. After six weeks I'll know with a pretty good degree of certainty whether my life is better for having added or removed something.

Many things, like daily Mass, and the Rosary, and not snacking, have felt beneficial enough that I mostly keep them up throughout the year. Other things, like no radio or TV, limiting spending to bare necessities, and avoiding sweets, have felt useful in the short term, but not practical for all year. So, good for every Lent, but not for every day.

A few things have been failures. One year, I gave up wearing make-up for Lent. For me, it ended up being something I NEVER wanted to do again. People seemed much less forgiving of me having all these kids (although I think I only had three at the time) when I didn't appear pulled together. Having a bit of make-up on seems to prove to people that it's okay, I can handle them. For me, not "neglecting my appearance" (Matthew 6:16) has turned out to be an important part of my apostolate of Appearing In Public With Many Children. But I digress . . .

She looks perfect either way.
Don't worry, it's a BABY eyelash curler.

I learned the hard way not to try to do food-related mortifications when I'm pregnant. I've been pretty barfy with the last couple and I felt like a huge failure when the only things I could imagine eating were on my banned list. Then my spiritual director told me I needed to forget the foodstuff and get more creative in my active mortifications and embrace more joyfully my passive mortifications. Like the barfing. And my other children. So that's what I do.

Some things that we do give up now took a few years of false starts to gain traction. TV was definitely one of those things. The first time I tried it was the second winter we lived in Chicago. I had kids aged 3, 2, and 2 months and a very tiny house. And, for me, it just wasn't the time to give it up. I needed the kids to be able to stop making messes and watch a show so I could make dinner.

I wanted to be able to stare at something other than the wall while I sat in my glider and nursed so that the baby would sleep while the other kids were napping.

Here's the TV I wanted to look at,
along with a view of basically our entire living space.

The house was really cute, but really small. The floors were very creaky, and the stairs were very, very creaky, and the bedrooms were right over the kitchen, and the only bathroom was between the two bedrooms where the kids were sleeping. And if I tried to cook, or do dishes, or talk on the phone, or go to the bathroom, or walk on the floor, everyone would wake up.

I am aware of the fact that whoever lived in that house on the south side of Chicago in 1957 was probably raising 11 kids in it, and ironing sheets and underwear, and fixing cocktails for the neighbors. I was doing none of those things. I was just bored and wanted to watch TV. I didn't know how to approach fasting and mortification in a positive way. So I gave up giving it up.

Stop judging me, adorably injured Betty.

But it still felt like something I wanted to be able to give up. So I kept trying Lent after Lent, until it finally took. Now, it's a completely different story. My current little kids don't watch TV because they have plenty of brothers and sisters to play with and because having a TV on would be disruptive to my big kids finishing schoolwork or practicing piano or reading or doing a craft or blinking. So we just don't usually turn it on anyway.

And I don't need it now either. For one, I have big kids around who aren't napping and watching Project Runway or Downton Abbey is not currently part of our homeschool curriculum. And I have their company, so I don't feel isolated like I did when I was in the all-little-ones phase. We live in a bigger, and not at all creaky house. And I discovered baby slings and industrial fans which have made a real lifestyle difference for me. I am no longer a prisoner of naptime. And now that I don't usually watch TV in the evening, I have time to write!

But the main difference in my success has been how I approach Lent. I used to view Lent as a time of suffering, a time to grudgingly give something up until Easter came and I would go right back to all my old ways. But now I see it as a gift. As a time when, if I will allow it, God will help remove some of the obstacles I keep piling up between us.

And it doesn't even have to hurt much, as long as I do it right. I have found that, almost always, when I start by asking God to remove my desire for the thing I want to give up, He does. And He usually replaces my desire for the lesser thing, with a desire for something better. So I come out of Lent not with the petty self-satisfaction of having gutted out six weeks of misery, looking forward to plopping myself down on the couch again . . . but instead -- invigorated, and with some new better habits, that I just might be able to hang on to.

The notable exception to this is . . .

Dr. Pepper 12oz Can - Legacy Wine and Spirits

Dr. Pepper. I like Dr. Pepper. A lot. I drink two cans every day that it's not Lent. I give it up every Lent and I hate every second of giving it up and I go right back to it just as soon as possible. I've tried just drinking water to 'detox', I've tried substituting something healthier (and more natural) like iced tea or fruit juice. But I hate them all and I always end up back where I started.

So, humility, I guess? Or the time hasn't been right yet? Or God just also likes Dr. Pepper and why would I ever give it up? No, probably not that one.

But, anyway, I head into this Lent excited for a quieter and simpler life, and looking forward to seeing what I will be able to accomplish without all my usual distractions, and already mourning the good Doctor. But somehow, I shall soldier on. How about you?