My Lenten Insight, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

My Lenten Insight


April 15, 2010

I know that for the most part people get pretty focused on “making it a good Lent.”  We “give something up” or “lay something down and take something up” or focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  I feel like it’s not uncommon to give it a really good strong start and maybe not always finish the Lenten fast as well as we might have liked.  The thing is, I went INTO this Lent mindful of that and all focused that this was not going to be the case for me. 

Famous last words, right?  Seriously.  In retrospect I came to a really helpful realization about family life and prayer, though. 

I started out pretty strong.  Not as strong as I would have liked on the discernment end of deciding what I was going to “do.”  I ended up giving up chocolate (so hard) and making a point of having one-on-one time with each of our three children each day.  As the days and weeks got started I was doing pretty well.  On the chocolate front I was SOLID for three good weeks.  And while I wasn’t getting time alone with each of the children every day, I quickly realized that some good time with one of them each day, and in good rotation, was really pretty good.  I was happy with that.

Then we took a family trip.  Spring Break came and we were out of town “feasting” over a wedding weekend.  I really don’t know what kind of switch got thrown in my head but after returning I had nothing in the way of conviction for my fast.  Very strange for me.  I am really not used to my will deserting me so entirely.

Joshua and our co-workers in Campus Ministry, being very well-trained lay and clergy, were quick to point out that falling short on my fast only highlights my need for God.  And isn’t that the point of Lent anyway: acknowledging where and when we fall short and relying on God’s grace?  I’m thinking, “Yes, that is the point – and nice theology at that – but I am a failure over here!” 

So, I was NOT in a good place going into Holy Week and REALLY feeling it: just generally down and regretting my short-comings but feeling helpless about the lost time etc…Then on Wednesday I went to confession.  Talk about relying on God’s grace – SO helpful!   My confessor gently asked one or two clarifying questions that really helped me come to this realization about prayer and family life:

With a busy work and home life, I rely VERY heavily on the liturgical calendar to set a rhythm to my personal prayer.  So when I let Lent “get away from me” I felt it very acutely because, for me, it was a lost opportunity.  An opportunity I couldn’t get back.  Life, very busy family life, was going to keep going and Easter was going to happen whether or not  I had my spiritual life “right” or not.

Isn’t it true how little time we have to really focus our prayer and spiritual lives raising young children and balancing dual work schedules?  I’ve come away from this experience with a renewed gratitude for our liturgical life in the Catholic Church.  Hopefully I have also come away with a renewed focus as well.

Reader Comments (1)

  • When I was a young mother, I often wondered if I spent enough time in prayer, service etc. ..and remember lent; one year; turned into a Holy week of bread and water to make of for not keeping my Lenten “fast”. I have since learned from a very reliable source that each morning as you dress your children; your are clothing the naked: each time you fix those school Lunches you are feeding the hungry, each time you give your child the “last bite of that sweet treat, you are fasting. Wiping away child tears and hugging is comforting the mourning….Awesome to know that God looks at our lives differently than we do. God bless you! Keep up the great work, and have a Happy Mother’s Day!

    Patti

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Restorative Niche Activities

Restorative Niche Activities

Winter is just sitting on top of us like a mean big brother who does not really care how “un-fun” the game has become. He is bigger than us and we just have to deal with it. I am an only child, so this is an entirely made-up scenario – but it seems plausible.

It is hard to wake up each day to another dark, cold morning, get children to school on slick roads or through snow, then off to work, only to pick up children, hope to get home before dark, make supper, do homework, bedtime routine, and then repeat. Granted, this is more or less what 75% of the year looks like, but somehow it is harder in February and March. As parents we can just feel devoid of energy and inspiration—empty.

That emptiness makes it very hard to be at out best for our children and our spouses.

We often tell ministry students, “You can’t minister from an empty cup,” meaning you have to attend to taking care of yourself and then minister from your overflow. Otherwise you are working from a deficit that will never be replaced (Bernard of Clairvaux).

In marriage and family life we do not always get the opportunity to fully attend to ourselves—to fill our cups. We rarely have the time and energy to exercise as much or even when we might want to; to pray as much, when, or even in the manner we might feel called; or to meet up with friends, go on retreat, or travel. We don’t even get to dictate our own sleep patterns!

One of the ways Joshua and I have begun to help one another in this regard is to carve out space for “restorative niche activities.” This is a phrase used by Matt Bloom, a sociologist whose research helps ministers flourish in ministry. It describes activities that meet two criteria: they are activities that we do well enough to pursue a sense of mastery; and they are activities that we do out of intrinsic motivation—simply for the joy we experience in the activity itself.

A variety of activities can be restorative, such as knitting, golf, painting, gardening, or model railroading. Bloom advises that for a restorative niche to really contribute to our flourishing, we need to engage in it regularly. Regularly, for him, means at least once a week.

Now if you are like me, one of the hardest parts of practicing restorative niche activities is just finding out what yours are. Josh’s is easy—baseball. He is part of an informal league that plays during summer, and he likes to make it to the batting cages when he can in the “off-season.”

I was happy to find an activity that suits the winter weather: ice-skating. I love playing on the ice. It is something that I do well enough that it is fun, and something that I would enjoy doing even better. When I am on the ice trying out new things, I totally lose track of time. That is one of the hallmarks of a true restorative niche—losing track of time.

This winter, Joshua has encouraged me to carve out a day or two each week to ice skate during the noon hour. It really is a lovely break from the day. It is refreshing in a way that has nothing to do with exercise and everything to do with clearing my mind and focusing on something for its own sake, not for a specific outcome.

The busy-ness of contemporary family life and its attendant stressors make it almost impossible not to be focused on goals and outcomes. We often need to plan our days out minute-by-minute so that everything fits. Our lives would be a mess without some sense of order and effort at planning and execution.

Restorative niche activities remind us how to play. How to just do something for its own sake and find ourselves in the fun of it. One of the ways Joshua and I support each other in marriage is by encouraging each other’s full flourishing. Just because the demands of parenting can easily become all-consuming does not mean that we should entirely lose our identity as individuals.

When we are whole in ourselves, when our “cups are full,” we are able to give not from a deficit but from our overflow. Such is the abundance of God’s love.


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