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No sacrifice too small: Setting realistic goals for Lent

by Michaelyn Hein –

When it comes to my faith life, I often make big plans – which might sound admirable. But the problem with big plans is that they can easily make us feel like big failures.

This past Advent, I promised to read a few chapters from the Bible and one meditation from Divine Intimacy daily. I successfully got 10 days in…and then life with little ones made me lose my way.

Last year, during Lent, I vowed to make it to every Friday’s Stations of the Cross. But Easter Sunday came and I hadn’t made it to one. My husband’s work schedule and my toddler’s sleep schedule made my goal unrealistic.

I had such grand ideas on how to navigate the Catholic life that when I first discovered the “Little Way” proposed by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I rejected it. If I wanted to prove the big love I feel for God, how could I offer acts so small?

But when I started raising a family, I finally understood something spiritually significant: Our Lord loves us the way parents love their children.

When my daughter once offered me a wrinkled, pencil-scratched note that said, “I luv u, momee,” I cleared space on my refrigerator and hung it as if it were priceless art.

When my son gave me a $2 ring for Christmas, I wore it nonstop – even after it turned my finger green – because, as he explained, “It’s blue, your favorite color.”

And when my toddler gives me wet kisses, I let him, because despite the sloppiness, his heart, when he shows me affection, is pure.

As I began to reflect on these little ways my children show me love, I began to understand how our Lord feels about our little offerings as well.  If I wake early to pray but get disrupted by one of my kids, Jesus sees my heart that yearns to spend time with Him. When I offer a quick touch to the image of His Sacred Heart on my wall, He values this small act of affection, just as I treasure my son’s brief smile in my direction as he runs down a soccer field.

With our Lord’s love of our littleness in mind, let us approach this Lent with attainable – even if not grandiose – goals. Of course, if you can do big things, then do so. But if, like me, you find that too intimidating, then follow St. Thérèse and walk the little way of Lent.

Prayer

Lent is a time when we should seek to intensify our prayer life, but with a family, this can feel impossible. If we keep our goals manageable, we have a better chance of finding success.

If you don’t currently pray a daily Rosary, maybe commit to a single daily decade. If you don’t currently pray a Rosary as a family, try to pray at least part of one together. Maybe all you can visualize is saying one “Our Father,” “Hail Mary” and “Glory Be” all together on a nightly basis. The point is, try to do a little more than you currently do. It’s important to be a praying person, and just as valuable to be a praying family.

Fasting

I’ve spent my last few Lents believing the small sacrifices, such the sodas and chocolate and coffee given up, were too insignificant to be of any value – and so I stopped giving things up completely.

But our sacrifices, however small, are valuable to our Lord. My daughter taught me this recently. After hearing about a family that lost their home in a fire, she pulled out a small stuffed kitten to give away to the family’s young daughter.

“I love this one a lot,” she explained, “but I’ll give it up for that little girl.”

The stuffed cat couldn’t buy the family a new home or provide them clothing or food, just as our small sacrifices can’t repair our Lord’s uncountable wounds. But such small offerings hold great value when we give up something we are attached to in this world for the sake of the One we desire to be attached to in the next.

Almsgiving

Jesus teaches that we don’t need to give lavishly to give big. After all, the widow who gave just two coins won from Him great praise. Likewise, during Lent, we don’t need to give great tangible wealth as long as we’re giving with great love.

Perhaps you can stretch your charitable giving by just a few dollars, or maybe you can give a little extra time.

My family has both gained and given much by helping to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables at a local farm for area soup kitchens – and it didn’t cost the extra money that we didn’t have. We’ve packed bag lunches for the homeless after decorating the brown sacks with inspirational words and child-drawn pictures. These acts don’t require huge sacrifices of time or money but are deeds of deep love, which is what our Lord values most.

As your family enters into Lent, do what you can, but remember, as St. Thérèse taught, “Nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.”

Michaelyn Hein is a Catholic writer, wife and mother who resides in Hopewell, NJ . She wrote this article for our Soul Winter 2020 issue.

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