Ash Wednesday is coming. Are you looking forward to it? Whether you like Lent or would rather skip it, Lent can give us a fresh start in our spiritual life. It’s like spring cleaning for the soul, a time when we can dispose of the clutter that’s been clogging our spirit. But if you would like this Lent to be a step forward in your spiritual life, choose only one thing to focus on.
Focusing on one thing can make a real difference. You might compare it to what happens when you use a magnifying glass to kindle a fire from the rays of the sun. Sunlight doesn’t ordinarily start fires because the rays are diffused over a large area. But when they’re focused, as with the glass, they become so intense that you can start a campfire with it. Similarly, God showers grace on us all the time. But to respond in the most effective way, we can focus on letting grace into the one area of life in which we need it the most. That allows the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn more ardently in our hearts.
If we try to do too much, we set ourselves up for failure. Lent is only six weeks, and researchers say that it takes about three weeks to establish a new habit. To attempt too many changes simply doesn’t work. So be realistic and pick something that will most help you grow closer to God.
But what would be best to pick? You probably already know it in your heart, that one area that’s been giving you the most trouble. You might ask yourself: what is the one thing that, if I actually do it, will find me a better Christian at Easter? By focusing on that one thing, you can concentrate your energies where they will really count.
In general, the Church proposes three areas for improvement during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. You could pick one of those areas and then decide on a particular thing. But these areas can be taken in a broad sense.
Prayer invites us to grow in our relationship with God. This can range from faithfully attending Mass, to reading the Bible, to setting aside a little time during the day for God.
Fasting invites us to grow in self-discipline. Maybe I could fast more from food, or curb my time on the internet, or refrain from gossip. Perhaps I could spend less time shopping and more time seeking spiritual goods.
Almsgiving invites us to a greater concern for our neighbor. This can include donating money to a worthy cause, or giving of our time to help someone, or offering forgiveness for an injury received.
The possibilities of Lent are indeed endless. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you choose what will help you the most this Lent. But remember: choose only one thing. And then do it!
By Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP