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A Lenten Journey: A Story of Personal Growth in Faith

For Lent 2015 I committed myself to a deep journey in “doing Lent” – with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving/service. I wanted to truly feel Lent, to reinvigorate my soul, to grow closer to God. I was inspired by the RedeemedOnline.com #ShareJesus movement which I had come across a few days prior to the start of Lent as well as a Family Lenten Practices calendar a co-worker shared with me. I decided to do the calendar activity, watch the #ShareJesus video, and read the daily readings each day of Lent.

This decision was hard, beautiful, and occupied every moment of my life for the length of Lent. But it drew me deeper and deeper into God’s love and reminded me how much I love God and how He calls me to serve Him, love Him, and live for Him.

This Lenten journey deepened my faith – strengthening my commitment to God and putting me on a better path where I could continue to follow the Lord even after Lent ended.

What follows are four things: (1) the Family Lenten Practice Calendar’s prayer, fasting, or service activity for the day, (2) my favorite sentences from that day’s RedeemedOnline (RO) video, (3) the Bible verse from the daily readings that spoke to me the most, and (4) my reflections on that day’s journey in faith – both my progress and my failings.

Resources:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/     http://redeemedonline.com/blog/ RO = RedeemedOnline https://tracimsmith.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/family-lenten-practices-calendar/ [P] = Prayer, [F] = Fasting, [S] = Almsgiving/Service

My Lenten Journey (Click on each link to read the full reflection. Next to each day is a “highlight” from that day.)

Day 1  Prayer  / When we keep God present in our lives we open ourselves to the opportunities he presents us with every day to bring him into our hearts and share him with others. Where is God today? Right here, with you and in you and working thru you. / Hope

Day 2 No screens today / “Be present so as to be present with God.” If we let ourselves remain distracted by our own wants and desires and always focus on ourselves we fail to make room for God. We need to remember to invite Him in. Slow down. Open up. Listen for how God is speaking to us. If we are mindful of what we are doing and don’t just seek the next distraction from our current one we give God an opportunity to let us hear Him.

Day 3 Write a card for someone / (1) I put off things to tomorrow that should be done today, (2) I could do more for others but just don’t, (3) Even when someone tells me how to live for the Lord I still fail. What a great opportunity for me – I need to learn how to turn back to Him in humility.

Day 4 Giving / Lord, you are always giving to me in so many ways. May I remember to give to you, not just when I feel like doing so but always.

Day 5 Self-Denial from food. Man that’s a tough one. I wasn’t sure if I was even going to try this. But my day made it easy for me. / So what did this teach me today? It seems like it was more of finding a way around it than just committing to the sacrifice of doing it. Basically I avoided the sacrifice.

Day 6 Do something kind for a neighbor / I thought “Too bad it didn’t snow today. I could have shoveled someone’s sidewalk.” That would have been “the easy way out”. Sure, it’s a nice thing to do. They would have appreciated it. But that was the least I could have done. …Nevermind, the least I could have done is what I did do – nothing. Pitiful. / God, have mercy on me, a sinner. / What is a neighbor anyway? 

Day 7 Grateful / I am grateful to have a loving God who loves me despite my flaws, despite my failings, despite the fact that I so often get in the way of me doing what He wants me to do. I am grateful for the many chances He gives to me to return to Him.

Day 8 Only water to drink today / I definitely missed the greater opportunity here that this fasting was meant to call me to. Every time I thought “I can only have water” I should have also reflected on Jesus’ sacrifice or how I am so very blessed to have water today as well having all kinds of drinks whenever I want them every other day. 

Day 9 Items for a Food Bank / I have this bad habit and definitely weakness for over-shopping for myself (hence what I’ve given up for Lent is online shopping). I’d say I think it makes me happy, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t because usually I end up praying to God to help me get past desiring stuff of this world and focus on Him. / I know it sounds like a simple story. But to me it was so powerful. And it showed me that God can be simple. Knowing Him. Loving Him. Seeing Him. All simple things because He is in all things just waiting for us to recognize He’s there.

Day 10 Jesus / I am within the first 10 days of what is feeling like a very long Lent and I think I might be suffering from Lent exhaustion. / A prayer for Jesus: Dear Lord, thank you for dying for me. Help me to live for you.

Day 11 Eat simple meals / I did not like it because it was hard to do. But once I committed to doing it it wasn’t that bad or hard. Funny how once you change your mindset how your perception of the thing can change. 

Day 12 Pick up litter / The snow is what other people see and/or what we can make ourselves appear to be to others — nice and perfect and holy. But we know that really we are covered in litter, they just can’t see it. But God can see all of our litter, and he wants us to pick it up and litter no more.

Day 13 Spirit / Our Spirit lies within us – when we nurture it springs forth, ready to greet the day. Just focusing on the day-to-day risks letting the challenges of life weigh us down and risks silencing our Spirit. Life can give us things that strengthens our Spirit, but it can also bring things that crush it. If we think of our Spirit as being up to us to make or break we miss the greatest opportunity God has given us to invite Him into our hearts. God gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us in life and strengthen our inner-spirit. 

Day 14 The message from scripture today is to “practice what you preach”. To paraphrase a priest’s homily about this: Do your words match your actions?

Day 15 Call someone / I can’t really figure out the message for today though… Perhaps it is that I need to do a better job staying in touch with the people I care about? Or perhaps it is that I should have a better memory when it comes to my personal relationships? I will assume it is those things because I am terrible at both of them! Part of living the faith is to not only keep ourselves in communion with God but it is to have a community with others. We are called to evangelize. How can we fully serve God if we aren’t creating opportunities to bring Him into our relationships?

Day 16 Holy / I was looking for the word or feeling of “Holy” all day. I thought the word “Holy”, “Holy”, “Holy” over and over again but that’s as far as I could get in in prayer.

Day 17 Do not listen to music in the car / I turned off the radio today and drove in silence. Funny how you can hear your own thoughts when you aren’t getting the words of others thrust into your conscience. And it’s not that your brain has to have great thoughts, but it was nice to just think and think free-flowingly.

Day 18 Take a treat to someone / God made this one easy for me today – a no-brainer. My friend Darcy just had a baby. I made her a meal and a dessert and dropped it off on my way to church. As I was cooking her the meal I felt happy. And I did pause a moment to realize that if I was making the meal for my family I would have thought it a bit of a chore rather than time pleasantly spent doing something for someone else. / Often I find myself caught up in the day to day and the “To Do” list of what “has to” get done and I don’t think of it as anything other than a chore. But this is my life, and if so much of it is going to be me doing the stuff that has to get done I better change my perspective of it.

Day 19 Patience / But there often is a greater spiritual need for Patience. And this is a constant struggle. I often want things in my time, not in God’s time. And while it helps to keep in mind that “all things happen in God’s time” it is hard to have the proper patience waiting for that proper time to come. / I can talk all I want about having patience, but if I don’t even try to practice having it at times of need then what good is that?

Day 20 No treats today /  Every time I thought about having a treat (which was often) I remembered why I wasn’t going to have one and that was that – no big torment, no thoughts of “this is so hard so why do it?”. I just did it. And by doing I felt good.

Day 21 Say something nice about each member of your family / I love my family so very much. They are wonderful people. I am so blessed to have them in my life. So why is it so hard to actually speak the words?

Day 22 Desert / He said “Do not be a desert!” (and I had been paying attention but it made me pay extra attention since he said the day’s magic word). He said that during Lent we tend to be in the desert, but what we need to do is get outside our comfort zone. I am not sure what he meant exactly because I have never thought of deserts as comfortable, but fortunately the rest of his message was clearer: Our relationship with God shouldn’t just be rituals – go to mass, say Hail Marys, say Our Fathers — those things are great, but we need to get outside of that comfort zone and have a dynamic relationship with God. We need to say spontaneous prayers. We need to really open up our hearts to the Lord. Invite Him into our hearts and have a true conversation with Him.

Day 23 No screens today / What good is a challenge if all you do is give up when it’s challenging?

Day 24 Invite someone over for dinner / Last Sunday I had huge hopes for myself for this one. Come day of what did I do? Took the lazy way out. Bridgette was coming over anyways so I invited her to dinner … that counts?

Day 25 Journey / I realized as I lay in bed last night that I felt content. I think it is the contentment that I have been searching for. To not want things. To be happy with what I have. This feeling felt so freeing and peaceful. I wanted that feeling to last, and if it couldn’t last I at least wanted it to be repeated. 

Day 26 For $2.34 I can provide a meal for a hungry, homeless person. How simple! How cheap! How can I not?

Day 27 Give someone flowers / There is love in action not just in words (see Day 21). God shows me all the time how through actions just how much He loves me. I need to remember to express my gratitude towards others in the same way.

Day 28 In moments of doubt and darkness and wondering where God is in the world we need to remember to cling to this — God is there with us. We may not be able to see it. We may not understand. We may hope for Him to intervene. But we need to be patient and trust and hope in the Lord

Day 29 A homily message was this: Make peace with the fact that you are a human and because you are human you will make mistakes. It’s okay! Make peace with being a sinner. Forgive yourself. God knows that you are human and will make mistakes. God still loves you.

Day 30 I love you. -God

Day 31 Friendship / Funny how we often can readily forgive our friends for transgressions simply because they are our friends.  But whoever offends us but are not our friends we hold it against them and do not like to forgive.

Day 32 I saw God in a piece of bread yesterday.

Day 33 Write a Thank You note / Like Mr. T never said: “Be grateful for God is great, fool!”

Day 34 God / God you are beautiful. You have so much love to share that it is eternal and infinite. Let me be worthy of that love. May I live my life according to your ways. May I remember to serve you above myself.

Day 35 So how are we living our lives to ensure that though we die we will find eternal life?

Day 36 GIVE GOD YOUR YES“Say ‘Yes’ to God.” is often said. But today I heard it phrased this way: “Give God your Yes.” / “Give God your ‘Yes’” I think I am drawn to this because it implies I need to be active, that I have a never ending supply of “Yeses” to give out, and God is always there just waiting for my “Yes”.

Day 37 Mercy / I often ask God to have mercy on me for my failings. And even though I can read/hear countless verses from the Bible about how I am to show mercy to others just as God shows it to me it can still be really hard to show that mercy when the moment comes for me to do so.  

Day 38 God wants us to pray. He wants us to mean it – say/think the words and feel them, believe them, and trust in Him. Sometimes it is hard to clear your head and focus and really commit yourself to that moment of prayer. But try, and continue trying. Because sometimes it is the prayer that is important, but all the time it is praying that is important. Take some time to talk to God. And then take some time to listen.

Day 39 Drop off the Food Pantry items / I mean, I can justify that I could wait and just do it some other time. But I feel like that is a running theme in my life. I have good (or decent-ish) intentions and then just fail a bit on the follow through. / And so I hope to get around to dropping off my “Food Pantry” box. But until then at least it is in my entry way gently reminding me (mocking me) that I need to do a better job of actively helping others.

Day 40 Why I find this encouraging: Even Jesus’ disciples made mistakes. Peter failed Jesus even though he knew him personally and God revealed Himself to his very face. He was constantly in His presence learning God’s message and living with God for God. And yet he still wasn’t a perfect follower.

Day 41+ Today I will just convey a message from Bishop Zubik which was a message of God’s mercy. His homily was about forgiving others – showing them the same mercy that God shows us. And to always remember that because Jesus died on the cross for us he took on our sins and gained us God’s forgiveness. Through Jesus our sins are “Forgiven. Forgotten. Forever.”. With this message Bishop Zubik stressed: “Hear it. Believe it. Embrace it.” / Over the last week we were in and out of the hospital 3x with Nora…. I meant to eventually get around to writing reflections but I never did. I wanted my Holy Week reflections to be so perfect for Holy Week, but that all got tossed to the wayside as we focused on our little bean and prayer.

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