I often worry about what my wife and children, family and friends, and even those of you I don’t know, think of me. Am I doing good work? Setting a good example? Who sees me at the grocery store—and what do they see? Who walks down my street and hears me thundering away at my poor children? Am I letting them down? Am I letting you down?
You know the old song: You’re so vain/you probably think this song is about you/you’re so vain. Yeah. I tend to think the song is about me. Like all of you don’t have better things to do than watch for me to stumble. I used to think, At least I’m not prideful—I’m worried I’m going to let people down!But now I see what twisted pride convinces a guy that everyone is looking at, paying attention to, and judging him.
I bring this up because Lent is on the horizon. In Fr. Mike Schmitz’s video reflection, Preparing for Lent, he cites three common mistakes people make in their approach to Lenten sacrifice:
- Take on a very easy sacrifice that will have no spiritual impact whatsoever
- Take on a very hard sacrifice just to see if they can do it
- Take on a two-fer–use Lent as a reason to fix a broken resolution or to do something you should have been doing all along
I have done made all three of these mistakes over the years: trying to break old habits during Lent, but for myself, not for God, or piling on the sacrifices and prayer practices until I couldn’t help failing, then cutting back and simplifying to the point that I became an unprofitable servant, only giving to God the minimum due. And all the while, I’ve wondered: Who’s watching? Who’s judging
Who cares? The point of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving Lent is to draw nearer to God and to detach from things that keep us bound to our earthly lives. We should ask, What in this world is keeping me from Christ? What can I do to more closely follow Him? —and listen to the answer.
Jodi and I used to tell our youth group in Michigan that if they thought of a sacrifice and had a sinking feeling in their hearts because they didn’t want to give that up, it might be the right thing. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. In fact, once I started thinking in terms of the little things, I realized that this is where the real work is. I’m no longer a slave to those big, serious, mortal sins that used to weigh me down, but I have countless little attachments and anxieties that crowd God out of my life.
Do you, too? Pick one, and let it go this Lent. Replace it with a simply prayer practice (maybe genuflecting more slowly and reverently before the tabernacle or monstrance, as though the King of the Universe is present—because He is!) and self-giving (how about a loving compliment to each person we interact with?).
Uh, oh. I’ve got that sinking feeling…