February 5, 2016

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Use Lent as a time to strengthen your spiritual muscles

Patti LambOne evening earlier this week, it was time to pull out the flashcards for some review with the kids. My fifth grader needed to practice Spanish vocabulary words, and my second grader had to hit the math facts. Flashcards are our go-to study tool since they always helped me when I was in school.

After cleaning up from dinner, I yelled up the stairs “time for flashcards!” Whining and protesting ensued. (That last sentence is an understatement.)

You would have thought I had shouted, “It’s time for mom to perform a root canal on you kids in the kitchen! Who’s first?”

“Whyyyy do I have to do this?” Margaret, 8, bemoaned.

Suddenly, I had a flashback to sentence diagraming in junior high, and I remembered that particular teacher’s comment when I balked at a lengthy assignment.

“Practice makes permanent,” she said. That comment sort of stuck with me.

I explained to Margaret that practicing and reviewing isn’t always fun, but it’s necessary. I told her that she wouldn’t know who Andrew Luck was if practice wasn’t part of his daily regimen, leading him to become a famous football player. (Most of my analogies are sports-related with my daughter. You’d understand if you met her.)

Before bed that evening, I did a double take when I looked at the calendar, and I discovered that Lent starts next week. Friends, please don’t judge when I admit that the way Margaret feels about flashcards is the way that I—sometimes—feel about Lent. It’s like being summoned for spiritual drills and exercises, but I know it’s for my own good.

Lent is an annual reminder that I’ve got work to do, and that it’s time for strengthening my spiritual muscles. To me, it’s a season that comes with its own invisible deck of faith flashcards, prompting us to review the importance of prayer, fasting, abstinence and almsgiving. It’s a time when we’re called to own up to our own shortcomings, and become spiritually introspective.

These 40 days challenge us to do the work of actively practicing our faith. We are reminded to reflect on whether we’re in touch with our Creator, or if we’ve gotten rusty and have some work to do in improving our relationships with God. If we don’t practice, we become complacent and submit to the ways of the world. More often than I like to admit, I find myself easily getting sucked into worldly temptations and falling into spiritual laziness. When I rely on people and material things instead of God, I get into trouble.

Lent gently calls my attention back to the fact that I’m human—and a sinner—and I’ve got work to do. I have flaws to mend, relationships to restore, and crutches on which I should stop leaning. It’s a time to examine my friendship with God, and think about how I might encourage others to know him.

Life has so many distractions and commitments which slyly pull our attention away from God. The season of Lent reminds me to shift my focus back to God, and evaluate whether I’m practicing his love and mercy.

Like my teacher said years ago, “Practice makes permanent.” That sentiment is not limited to the classroom, and it applies to more than shooting free throws or learning to play an instrument. It is true of our faith journeys. If we don’t observe and practice what Jesus called us to do, we lose sight of our goal: eternal life, our permanent home with God.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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