Tomorrow we enter into the Lenten season to unite ourselves with Christ. With each year that passes we are invited not just to an annual seasonal tradition, although it is that, we are each being called personally to a high adventure in the spiritual life leading us further into our need and desire for the pulsing love of Christ. It is not merely a time to press replay and repeat; it is a time to press into the treasure of his pure love and to be transformed in the midst of our passionate vocation.
As a young theology student in my college days, I was part of a community that observed certain fast days. I felt a sense of obligation, but underlying the sense of duty was a disconnected annoyance at the whole idea. I understood self-deprivation only if viewed through the eyes of self-improvement or in light of a feast reward. At best my efforts felt contrived, and I often bailed half-way in, resenting having made any commitment at all. My genuine understanding of sacrificing my needs and wants was lacking.
My husband and I began our life together as a young married couple reveling in enjoyment. In that first year we dined out, moved when the whim struck, traveled, and went out every night of the week. Every day looked something like Fat Tuesday. No, we were not living a life of positive evil, but it was constant celebration and the livin’ was easy. Underneath the ease, however, my heart was restless and longing to serve God more deeply. I look back at my restless heart and see God’s merciful providence in the timing of my call to motherhood.
From the moment I took the first pregnancy test, I was being led into a personal journey of sacrifice, and it was not something that was only going to last a matter of days. It brought my twenty-three-year-old life as I knew it to a screeching halt. There were rough edges, and the stretching made both my body and my soul ache, but the process was indescribably gratifying.
To this day I often tell our oldest child, “You changed my whole life.” Motherhood offered the transformation from a life centered on achievement, entertainment, and ease, to one of giving things up daily and pouring out love. But somehow, I saw giving things up differently; I gave up my comforts and my wants not out of obligation, but out of love. I lost sleep, I lost personal time, I stayed home while the world socialized. I viewed my studies and work as secondary to my newborn son’s needs. Somehow the impossible shift was made possible because of God’s grace enabling his love to work through me.
Not only did God’s grace enable me to see an impossible shift take place, I began to see the beautiful, silvery depth of the kingdom. I came to know a deep sense of grounding that I had not known before. This call to love was the same love that grounded me in Christ. In him I began to taste of freedom and meaning – the very things my heart had longed for in that shapeless void of entertaining ease. My call to give things up gave me a clarity of vision that far out-rivaled obligation. Having a life of fewer options freed me to experience more of Christ.
As C.S. Lewis put it in The Last Battle, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
That was the first of many seasons. And now I actually look forward to this season dedicated to intentional sacrifice. Here and now I am being called to enter in deeply – to give up parts of myself out of love and to experience even more of the Sacred Heart. I am still discerning what specific ways I am going to give of myself, and how I am going to intend to love more purely this year, but I can sense God leading me. And although I know that it will be hard, and that it will cost, I also know that it will bring me further up and further into knowing him in the power of the love that undergirds his cross and resurrection.