Lent has officially begun. For the next 40 days (give or take a few, depending on when you’re reading this), it’s all about fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and making room in your heart for God. It is a penitential season in which we look at our lives and see where God fits into it; at what is keeping us away from Him.
The majority of us have given up creature comforts or taken up extra penances in order to make the most out of the season. However, did you know that you can easily “fail” at Lent? Don’t believe me, here are 10 things you can do to epically fail at Lent.
1. Treat your penances like New Year’s Resolution
Okay, so you failed to keep up your New Year’s resolutions last month so it means you get a re-do for Lent, right? *insert buzzer sound* While it is great to do things that will improve your life, doing them just for this reason isn’t a good idea. If you want to eat healthier and exercise more because you want to take care of the body that God gave you – and want to use that health to do more for your brothers and sisters in Christ – go for it! If you’re doing it so you’ll get a head start on swimsuit season, it’s best to look for something else to take on for the season.
2. Or become overly scrupulous about making them perfectly
Those of us who are perfectionists and/or have scrupulous tendencies can fall into the trap of wanting to make our penances as “perfectly” as possible. Here’s the thing: we’re all human beings and thus we all have a fallen nature. That means that temptations will get the best of us at times. It means that we can’t (and shouldn’t want to) control people or unavoidable situations in which we may be tempted. Do your best to stick your penances but remember that the intention is better than the execution at times like these.
3. Compare your penances to those being made by others
Being so hyper-connected (thanks, Internet and smartphones), we can easily see what others have given up or taken up for Lent. Even after we’ve come up with our own, we see others’ lists and pride starts to tempt us to compete against them; to be “better” at Lent than others. Don’t see what others are doing and start wondering how you can be more creative, sacrificial, and/or “holier” than others. Instead, pray for them that their penances may bring them close to God.
4. Skip doing anything that requires sacrifice altogether
“I’ve already suffered enough as it is. Why should I do more?” I’ve heard this said before. And, if I’m being honest, I’ve said this before as well. “Why do I have to give more up when I’ve already given up so much?” It sounds mighty selfish, doesn’t it? If you find yourself trying to “get out” of your own self-imposed penances perhaps it’s a sign that you’ve taken on too much. If this is the case, perhaps you can add more prayer to your life. If you’re simply saying it because you want an “out,” I suggest you reflect on the Passion of Christ and do the Stations of the Cross at least once. You know, just some perspective on how our sacrifices aren’t as heavy as the one Christ made for us.
5. Look for loopholes to make your penances less burdensome
See suggestions for number 4. If you’ve taken on too much (overachievers, I am one of you), it’s okay to let one or two things go. Ask yourself if the sacrifices you’re making come from a place of pride or a place of love for God. If it’s for the latter and you’re still struggling with something (perhaps the only sacrifice you’re making this season), ask God to help you learn to love your crosses.
6. Don’t attend Mass again until Easter
It’s not Christmas and it’s not Easter so you totally skip Mass until Lent is over, right? Sorry, folks! While it’s not mandatory to go to Mass more frequently than usual during Lent, we still have our Sunday Mass and holy day obligations year ‘round. Still, if you can make it to Mass at least once more, during the week, during the season, you won’t be sorry!
7. And skip going to confession as well
After all, we’re only required to go once a year, right? Yes and no. While it is true that we’re required to go to confession at least once a year for serious sins (keyword: at least) (CCC 1457), it would be a shame not to get into the habit of going to confession more regularly. It’s good to get in the habit (without falling into scrupulosity) to confess even just venial since once a month, if not more often. Many parishes have extended hours of confession and/or offer more chances at getting to the confessional, especially towards the end of this penitential season. If you haven’t been to confession in a while, this is your gentle reminder that now is the perfect time to return and get yourself right with God.
8. Do zero acts of mercy
Please don’t be one of those “if they’re in a bad place, it’s because they’ve brought it upon themselves” people. Sadly, I’ve seen this said more times than I would like on social media. So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering due to circumstances beyond their control. We should help each other in whatever way we can.
9. And be stingy with your resources
This one goes hand-in-hand with number 8. I don’t mean just giving, financially. While it is true that some of us are barely making ends meet, there are so many other ways to give back to others. Can’t do corporal acts of mercy that would only require your time? Try a spiritual act of mercy. If you’re been blessed with a good memory, good Catholic education, and/or good interpersonal communication skills, use them. There are so many poorly catechized Catholics whose life would be enriched by being instructed of the true teachings of the Church. Just remember to do it with clarity and charity.
Alternatively, do you have a special gift that can be used to help others? Do you have excellent organizational skills you can use to help your parish or someone who struggles with time management? How about a green thumb you can use to help plant vegetables for a community garden that gives back to those in need? Look outside the box and give how you can.
10. Don’t try to improve your prayer life
Yes, I know. We’re all busy with work, family life, and/or school. Sometimes we barely have time to eat or sleep. Still, that is no excuse to let your prayer life fall by the wayside. Even if you’re crunched for time, there are some very short aspirations you can add on your daily commute, while cooking (or reheating leftovers), or simply taking a 1-minute breather before resuming work.
Please remember that during this penitential season that we are human beings. We are prone to fall down and failing at our goals. However, God is merciful and wants what’s best for us. As a popular late-90s song said, “If, at first, you don’t succeed, dust yourself and try again.”
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