October 19, 2017

Marilyn Rodrigues: A softer Lent of little penances

Lent still has a way to go. How are you going with it? I can’t help comparing this one to the start of last year’s one when I was sick with bronchitis and suffering burnout.

Lent last year showed me how weak I can be, more fragile than a newborn and just as needy. How deeply terrified of the cross I am. And how much I need the comfort of the routines, traditions, and rituals of the liturgical life of the Church and its people.

This year I have the same lessons to learn, but this Lent is feeling much sweeter. I’ve been rediscovering the clear, wise counsel of St Teresa of Avila, through re-reading her Interior Castle and Way of Perfection.

My Lenten penance this year was easy to settle on. This life in the suburbs with routines of work and a clutch of young children, shows me very clearly, every day, what my weaknesses are, where I can become a bit better as a person, where I can give God a bit more leeway to take the lead in things.

Mainly, since we do have these young kids, that means being happily ‘on call’ for them.  You would think this is much easier now for me than it used to be a couple of years ago, because I can be fairly assured of a proper sleep at night these days.

But because I have much more energy now, there is always so much I want and need to try and get done – and often it can feel that my family’s wants and needs get in my way.

The kind of penance I feel is right for me to attempt at this stage of life is doing things like:

  • When we arrive to the preschool and the four-year-old is only wearing one shoe, which costs me an hour out of a busy day to retrieve and deliver its mate, that I do it with good humour, and don’t make him feel bad about it.
  • When the 12 year old volunteers for the debating team and a school musical, on top of her extra-curricular sport and music commitments, and we’ve already discussed both the great and not-so-great consequences of that, that I resist the impulse to bring it up again every time I see her catching up on homework late at night.
  • Reading a book or two to the little boys every night instead of relying on the older children to do it, because I know they prefer to have me read to them. And instead of half-listening to the older boy’s play-by-play account of the cricket game at school today, I stop to watch his recreation of it with interest.
  • Making my husband’s sandwich and writing a little note on top, when I know he’s just as happy to make it himself but it makes his morning rush a bit smoother.

Maybe lots of people do this kind of thing every day as a matter of course – I usually don’t. I’m not naturally a selfless kind of wife and mother.

At least during Lent, that moment when I’m aware I have a choice to indulge my own well-worn wants over giving them something small that they need or want, I’m trying to choose against myself and for them.

It’s a little thing, a practice for bigger penances that will inevitably come my way. Last year humbled me out of attempting any great penances myself. In the same spirit as St Therese of Lisieux, I’ll try to do these tiny things, and hope I’ll get help with the bigger things when I need to do them.

I’m not even doing this little penance perfectly. My family might not have even noticed what I’m trying! It’s just something that I’m trying to keep top of mind, and I’m not doing anything else on top of the basics this year.

I notice that the occasions when I have managed not to assert my own usual way, we’ve been having a nicer time together. I’m just grateful that sometimes God draws us in with a lovely experience of Lent.

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