Self Care & Sacrifice in Lent
This Lent I’ve felt a strong call to get back to basics with my prayer life. My focus has been on actions and now it is time for me to go into the desert and focus on my interior life. My therapist has been trying to get me to meditate for the past year. She’s explained the benefits of meditation and mindfulness until she’s blue in the face. I completely agree with her — but it never sticks. She gives me handouts; I lose them. I try apps; they don’t resonate. I can spout off the importance of meditation and mindfulness to people with anxiety and PTSD, but can I take my own medicine? No.
Self imposed suffering when already suffering to my capacity would more likely drive me further from God.
As Lent drew closer, I tried to figure out what God was calling me to do. I ran through the usual things to give up. None seemed appropriate. I’m going through a period of transition right now and putting a greater strain on myself when already at the breaking point felt imprudent. Self imposed suffering when already suffering to my capacity would more likely drive me further from God. Volunteering? I’m already pouring my heart and soul into my ministry. No, I don’t think more work is the answer. Prayer it is.
I went through the litany of formal prayers I know — see what I did there? Should I pray the Hours? More rosaries? Chaplets? None of these seemed right. Frustrated and confused, I decided let it marinate. I went about my life, a bundle of stress and anxiety. I do try to be mindful. And when I was, I heard the still, soft voice, “nada te turbe (let nothing trouble you).” When I was driving my kids to school, “nada te turbe.” When paying way too large medical bills, “nada te turbe.” When changing diapers, scheduling school meetings, talking with my divorce lawyer, and filling out what feels like the millionth job application, “nada te turbe.” And most importantly, during panic attacks, “nada te turbe.” Obviously, St. Teresa of Avila was going to be involved in my Lent.
During the FemCatholic Conference, while Donna bought an absolutely adorable tank top from the Eden Invitation, I wandered over to the Ave Maria Press table. It was there that a teeny, tiny book called Let Nothing Disturb You by John Kirvan caught my eye. I’m a single mom of four young boys: let me tell you, I do not have time to tackle the Interior Castle. This looked like a manageable size. It’s bits of St. Teresa’s diary, broken up over thirty days. There’s a morning meditation and an evening one and an all-day mantra.
Perfect. This is exactly what I needed heart, mind, body, and soul.
But we are dust made in the image and likeness of our Creator. We are dust that is so fiercely loved, our God became dust with us.
That’s when it hit me. God was calling me to better mental health. He wants me to take good care of myself. And Lent is how He’s going to teach me to do it. It was like a lightning bolt. Self care and penance aren’t opposing ideas, they work together! God is not going to call us to a penance that is damaging to our mental health. He cares about our bodily and mental health as well as our soul.
No, not cares — loves. Loves wildly with a passion we can’t begin to understand. Let us be humble. Let us be dust. But we are dust made in the image and likeness of our Creator. We are dust that is so fiercely loved, our God became dust with us.
That is not your average dust.
Every Lent, Catholic Facebook groups light up with people worried they aren’t doing enough. They push themselves to fast beyond their means, still thinking it’s not enough. That they are not good enough. It breaks my heart that Lent can trigger scrupulosity and shame. My dear survivor, that is not what God wants. If Lent leaves you feeling that you, your very being is not good enough, that is not from God. He loves you. He has plans for our prosperity not our harm.
In Norse mythology there is a rune called perthro, or the empty cup. The Norse see perthro as a “lot cup,” letting the Norns (who control the destinies of mankind) decide. This past year I have often felt like an empty cup. However, unlike Norse mythology, we have a loving God just waiting to fill our cups with the waters of eternal Life, His very Blood.
If you are struggling with your recovery and you’re finding yourself triggered and overwhelmed by this penitential season, I invite you to spend some time thinking about what you need for recovery and incorporating that into your Lenten practices. And please, not because you need to be healthy to take care of others. It’s true you can’t pour from an empty cup. But even if there was no one else in the world, God wants you to be filled.
Please, do not give up self care for Lent. See how God can use this penitential season to draw you closer to Him and hide your wounds in His.