The first couple of Lents after my reversion to the Catholic faith were pretty intense. I undertook fasting diets that would have made Gandhi look like a glutton. I had prayer goals that the Seraphim wouldn’t have been able to keep up with. The pile of books I planned for my spiritual reading dwarfed the pile of unsold 2003 Daredevil DVDs. The mortifications I envisioned would have been a bit much for even the most ardent of ascetic monks. I was very enthusiastic to join Jesus in the desert for those 40 days but I’m pretty sure Jesus was like, take it easy. It’s the desert, not the sixth circle of hell.
Of course, I should have listened to Jesus. I couldn’t keep up with my ambitious Lenten plans and I crashed and burned each time within the first couple of weeks.
Now that I’ve had several Lenten failures, I’ve learned to be more realistic and flexible about my Lenten goals so that I can actually make them last through the season. I’ve learned two things over the years:
- As long as I’ve got little kids around, I’m not going to be able to keep up the rigorous ascetic schedule of a desert monk.
- No matter what I plan out for my Lent, more Lent always comes to find me. Usually because I’ve got little kids around.
For instance, this year on Ash Wednesday, my mother-in-law called my husband and asked to bring some fast food for breakfast the following morning. My husband, never one to turn down a meal of simple carbs, agreed.
One would think that a visit with one’s mother-in-law would be Lent enough, but it gets worse.
She arrived the next morning bearing breakfast sandwiches for the adults and enough hash rounds to feed each of my children and the entire country of Ireland.
I had been showering when she made her entrance, and so didn’t suspect anything was awry when I went out to the dining room and lifted my baby up out of the exer-saucer while my husband and his mother talked. In fact, it wasn’t until she asked to hold the baby that I found out my Lent had just gotten kicked into high gear.
She held my little peabiddy for a moment, cooing at her and breathing all over her before handing her back and saying, “I probably shouldn’t hold her, I’ve got a really bad cold.”
Not: I’ve got a mild cold. Nor: I’ve just gotten over a really bad cold. Her statement was present tense and it used the adjectives really and bad.
An astonished “Whaaaaaa?” was all I could manage before taking my sweet baby from Typhoid Mary and racing down the hall to remove the germ-ridden clothes, set them on fire and wipe my baby from head to toe, several times, with baby wipes followed by a bath, just to make sure.
All precautions were useless, however, because my mother-in-law stayed in my house with all the other children regaling them with stories of how she’d had to sleep upright in her chair the past couple of nights, so bad was this cold. How she had to purchase an industrial strength humidifier that now had mold growing all over her neighborhood, so bad was this cold. How the CDC had temporarily taken up residence in her home in order to study her, so bad was this cold.
When she’d finished telling tales of her new status as a human biohazard, she got up, hugged all the kids, had a coughing fit in case she’d accidentally left someone in the house healthy and then left, the bushes in our front yard withering as she walked by them to her car.
“Great,” I said, coming back down the hall once the house was all clear of the bubonic-plague-in-person-form. “Can’t wait till that starts working its way through the house.”
“It’ll be fine,” my husband said. But he was in a carb coma so I knew better than to trust his assurances.
It was not fine. Everybody got it. I spent the next week wiping noses, wiping down surfaces and trying to wipe my mind of non-Lent-like thoughts of my mother-in-law.
My nights were spent staying up with the baby, snot-suckering and soothing her fussing. My days were filled with the sounds of nose-blowing, coughing, hacking and spitting. The CDC was starting to eye our house with interest,
At one point, my mother-in-law called, found out we were all sick and said, “I’ll pray for you guys” before hanging up.
Not: I’ll bring by some toilet paper since the kids keep wiping their noses with a pound of it each time and I know you’re running dangerously low. Nor: I’ll come by and wash some sheets since the little ones are having coughing fits so hard the fits are making them vomit.
Although, in her defense, she knew what we were dealing with better than we did. She knew that for this supernatural entity she’d introduced into our house, we’d need supernatural help.
All this to say: sometimes Lent comes looking for you.
That’s why I’ve learned to be more realistic and flexible about my Lenten goals. Some mornings, I get up early, do a rosary and read while the house is quiet. Other mornings, I read next to a small pile of coughing toddler vomited-up eggs with a receiving blanket thrown over them because the baby is on my lap finally sleeping well after a week of broken sleep and I don’t want to wake her from it.
Sometimes Lent comes looking for you and you do with it what you can.