I thought I was prepared. I thought I had a plan. I thought this would be the year I did Lent right. Then my kids started throwing up . . .
by Becky Arganbright
Every year, I feel I have somehow “missed something” during Lent. While everyone else seems to be on a spiritual retreat, I find myself sidelined and distracted as to what we’re supposed to be doing here . . . something about eating more fish, sacrifice, and more prayer, right? By the time I finally figure out what I am going to give up and what prayers I will add to my already busy day, there is maybe a week left in Lent. And once again, I missed it. Everyone comes back from Easter rejoicing and talking about how good they feel, while I sort of feel like it’s just another day.
But not this year. This year, I had my spiritual books lined up, my plan of attack ready. I knew what I was going to give up, and I even had all my Friday meatless meals planned.
But as always…”real life” imposed itself on my plans. That is, The Flu.
Life Doesn’t Stop for Lent
The weekend before Ash Wednesday, Anna got the flu. Then Lucy. Finally, me. Dennis was supposed to go on a fishing trip that Monday and ended up canceling. Everyone was irritable and out of sorts. Ash Wednesday came and we weren’t able to go to the services. Then Max got sick. After my aches and fever finally lifted, I got hit with “The Cold.” My head ached and my nose ran. Every time I sneezed I felt like my brain was going to burst. So much for my Lenten retreat. My “fasting” was apple juice and cough drops and my prayers were, “Please, God, make it stop….”
My irritation grew as the piles of messes from our bathroom renovation began to creep up around me. The bathroom vanity waiting to be installed was in our bedroom, along with the medicine cabinet. With the recent illness, cold and flu medicine that had been in the cabinet now littered my dresser, along with hairbrushes and shampoos. And anything that didn’t fit on my cluttered dresser leaked into the kitchen: thermometers, rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, more flu medicine mixed in with dirty dishes that were never put away.
I didn’t have the time or energy to pray. Most of my time was spent catching up on work or dishes or laundry. Coaxing a previously sick child to go back to school or running to the school to pick up the next sick one. Hours of homework to be made up for the time missed. And it didn’t help that the kids came home with Valentine cards and candy that I found strewn all over the floor.
On Friday I found out that our church was offering Confession as well as Eucharistic Adoration. I had not been able to do anything in prayer in regard to Lent, so I wanted to at least go to Confession. So I loaded up on cold medicine, made tuna melts for Dennis and the kids for supper, and left.
After Confession, feeling refreshed and clean, I spent some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, enjoying the bliss of silence. “Master, it is good for us to be here” (Matthew 17:4). the quote flashed through my head, and indeed it was good to be there. At the moment, there was nowhere else I would rather be. Finally, I felt like I was “doing Lent right.”
What “Prison Food” and Dog Puke Do for Your Spiritual Life
As soon as I arrived home, I stepped back into reality. Dennis was stressed, the kids were whiny and hungry, and oddly enough, the dog was sick.
Apparently, the kids hated the tuna melts. They called it “prison food.” However, the dog enjoyed it. He stole Max’s tuna sub off his plate when no one was looking and wolfed it down in one gulp when he saw Dennis come running. Supper dishes were everywhere with uneaten food and the kids were cranky that there was “nothing to eat.” Dennis was “done” as he declared he was going to bed, and the dog was looking at me with a bulging stomach.
I tried to not let my new-found peace be disturbed as I calmed down the cranky kids and put them to bed. I bid Dennis good night and was about to tackle the dishes when suddenly, the dog threw up. I ran the dog outside where he continued to be sick and began cleaning up his mess. Just when I let him back in, he threw up again. And again.
I found myself angry at the whole lot of them. I noisily scraped off the food on plates and shoved them in the dishwasher as I thought of it. Angry at the dog for his disobedience and now his mess because of it. Angry that at the kids for turning their noses up at a perfectly good meal. Angry at the mess that was left behind. Angry that I had just come back from Confession, and now thanks to them, I had to go back. My peace was not only disturbed, it was gone.
What Is Lent, Then?
“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, He was hungry…” (Luke 4: 1-2)
It wasn’t until I read these words—these words that I have read a hundred times over the years—that I understood that everything that I was experiencing was exactly as it should be.
Like Jesus, I was in a spiritual desert, where everything felt dry. Prayer did not come easy. My time of prayer was filled with the distractions of noisy children, or a dog who got into everything.
And, as I thought more about it, I realized why everything has been so hard. Because the devil is there to tempt us, just as he did with Jesus. To distract us. To lure us out of the desert.
Lord, I have been hungry. I prayed. I have been craving a prayer life that doesn’t seem possible. I have been hungry for peace that doesn’t seem to last; and instead, I am faced with temptations and weaknesses.
“Remember you are dust, and dust you shall return.” Those familiar words came back to me as I scrubbed the dishes left from the night before. I had fallen into the devil’s temptation of vanity and success, wanting to walk out from my journey feeling I had gained something, accomplished something. That my sacrifices and prayers had been worth the effort.
“…unless there is a cross, there can be no empty tomb; unless there is a crown of thorns, there can be no heavenly crown; and unless the body be scourged, it can never be glorified.”
—Fulton Sheen (The Way of the Cross)
Lent isn’t about filling myself up with prayer or even peace. The words continued in my head as we drove to the library with a blaring radio and singing children. It’s about emptying myself so God could fill me with Himself. And peace will come.
I had been trying to make my Lent how I thought it was supposed to be–a plush spiritual retreat, instead of accepting the spiritual difficulties that come with it.
But at the end of forty days, there is a Resurrection. And we would be all the stronger for it.
“Lord, it is good we are here.” It is true. It is good to be here in the desert with the Lord, striving for holiness, being hungry for Him. There is no other place I would rather be.