“Adulting” Through Lent

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Somehow, it is both shocking and no big surprise that the term “adulting” has worked its way into our cultural lexicon. We collectively commend someone when he dutifully takes on the responsibility assigned to his stage in life. “Yay for you, Gary! You’re paying off your college loans on time.” Yet, as creatures accustomed to so much comfort and ease we will often do whatever it takes to avoid facing difficult but necessary challenges of growth. “But I don’t want to have kids until I’ve lived a full life and visited every major league ballpark in the U.S.”

I recently watched a documentary, “American Factory” which details a Chinese company’s take-over of a shuttered Ohio factory. The Chinese employees who are sent to oversee the transition cannot even conceive how to manage the entitled Americans. In a meeting to discuss the major problem of motivating their reluctant employees, they learn that from a young age Americans are coddled. They are rewarded and propped up even when it is undeserving. The aghast Chinese managers are warned to never criticize American employees. 

This sobering account of American society got me thinking about how our Christian faith offers the perfect antidote to this cultural sickness. And it’s completely contrary to the relentless Communist Chinese work ethic which diminishes and risks individual lives for the supposed sake of the whole. Rather, Jesus Christ by his incarnation teaches of us what it truly means to be fully human. To be a real adult. Throughout his life on Earth and especially on the cross, he exemplified the pouring out of his self as an act of sacrifice for others, for me. If Christ offers us the grace and example to be fully human, then Lent offers us an opportunity to grow as fully Catholic. This is a time to enter into our humanity while delving deeper into the mysteries of our faith. It’s a time to discern our motivations. Are we driven to do good because of pride, or fear, or because we know it’s right? Do we attend Mass out of duty or a sincere sense of piety? Are we able to eschew comfort for the sake of spiritual maturity and to help a neighbor? In becoming more fully Christian, we naturally become more adult. Living as a spiritual adult is a noble goal, but how does one practically get there? I’m sharing some simple personal Lenten guidelines to help me “adult” through this Lent.

Give up something that will truly sting.

I am so accustomed to my crutches and comforts that the idea of giving them up seems absolutely preposterous. “Give up coffee? But drinking a single cup of coffee is not harmful to me or anyone else. It would be more harmful to you and the kids! It’s a small ritual that enriches my life. Ridiculous.” I said as much while my husband and I were discussing what to give up a few weeks ago. Boy were my feathers ruffled. Full disclosure, it’s not what I ultimately landed on. I’m just not there yet, but after some prayerful thought, I did pick a couple other things that will be as equally tough to go without. This Lenten sacrifice is meant to hurt. A couple years ago, one of my kids decided to give up chocolate every other day, but not for lunch, snacks, or weekends. Seriously? To be fair, she was six. And yet, how many of us adults aren’t willing to let go and surrender some of the comforts we cling to. Discern whether this is a real sacrifice. If it’s a resounding yes, you’re on your way to bypassing some of the obstacles in your faith journey.

Stop complaining.

All the whining and grumbling is preventing you from maturing. If you give something up that stings, do your best to bear it. Don’t be miserable to be around and blame every ill in your life on the fact that you can’t have coffee. I’m guilty of this. At a get-together with some of my friends, I remember complaining that I couldn’t eat what was offered since I was fasting. Boohoo for holier-than-thou me! It’s ok to have a friend or two with whom you share your struggles, but the constant complaining to anyone and everyone “lucky” enough to be in earshot is not good for your emotional and or spiritual growth. It can fester negativity and pride. Just. Zip. It. When you mess up, get to confession. It will help you put that proclivity to bed.

Increase your prayer time.

I had a great conversation with a very holy guy recently. He’s an exceptional father, grandfather, husband, and leader to many Christians in business. He shared some of his prayer routines. As I listened intently, hoping for some pearls of wisdom on how to achieve greater heights, I began nodding along while dying a little on the inside. I was immediately convicted as I realized his “routine” wasn’t so much about latching on to particular devotions or elaborate plans, it was about setting aside a lot of time and being consistent. No matter how much a prayer warrior you may be, this is the time to up your game. Add a 20-minute Rosary walk to your day. Spend 15 minutes reading and pondering scripture upon waking and before bed. Sneak in a Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 o’clock. Pray the Angelus at 6am, noon, and 6pm. Adoration is a powerful form of prayer. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just choose it and go with it on a regular basis. To be successful in the Christian life, we need to pray—often. This will fortify your resolve and purify your daily mission.

Lean into awkwardness.

As adults, we are set in our ways to a degree that can be harmful to our souls. Nothing causes me more consternation than feeling socially awkward. I will go to great lengths to avoid it. I heard someone say recently that “eternity is worth the awkwardness.” That hit home. I’ve driven right past a homeless person, even though I have a care package handy because I don’t want the interaction to be awkward. What if they say no? What if they just want money? What if it’s awkward? I can’t handle awkwardness today… Wow. I share this in the hopes that it resonates with a few of you out there. Christ in the City Mission says giving someone a few items in a ziplock bag can “facilitate a personal encounter with someone experiencing homelessness. Your time is the most valuable gift you can offer another person.” It’s the connection that matters. They recommend filling ziplock bags with toiletries, water, warm socks, soft foods. Stash them in your car and overcome your fear of awkwardness and reach out. In the same way, consider sharing your faith with a neighbor or friend. You don’t have to win them for Christ, that’s God’s job. But you can create a touchpoint, or plant a seed by sharing how your life has changed since a heartfelt conversion. These things are achieved when we are brave enough to overcome the awkwardness.

If you’re feeling as if the whole adulting thing is too daunting, consider a quote from St. John Henry Newman that a friend shared with me recently: “to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Put in to practice a few of these guidelines and marvel at the change.

I wish all of you adults a successful Lenten season! Pray for me.

For more on improving your Lenten journey, check out my essay on “The 5 Lenten Personality Disorders and Cures.”

*photo credit: by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

Tips to Make Your Kids’ Valentine’s Day About True Love (No Crafting Involved!)

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I’m about to write something extremely controversial and provocative. Proceed with the pitchforks and torches if you must. It will not change my opinion. Here goes. I’m glad—no, downright gleeful that my kids’ Catholic school does not celebrate Valentine’s Day. There. It’s officially out there. I’m truly happy there will be no shoebox “mailboxes” wrapped in red and pink paper and plastered with colorful stickers and foam heart decorations. No cutesy purple cupcakes heaped with gobs of frosting and sprinkles. No party with pastel streamers, balloons, Pinterest-inspired crafts, sugary drinks paired with adorable polka-dotted straws, and candy galore. Some of these things I look back on fondly from my own youth. I did really love those candy hearts with the pithy little sayings… miss you, be mine, kiss me. And taking my stuffed mailbox back to my desk where I opened each valentine with eager anticipation—I’ll admit—it was fun. And yet, I don’t want that same pleasurable memory for my own kids? There’s a reason I’ve taken such a counter-cultural stance against the feast of February 14th. In one sentence, we’ve lost our minds, folks. We took a turn towards Cuckoo-Ville, accelerated, and haven’t looked back.

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Exercise?! I thought you said extra fries!

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Since one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more authentic, I admit that the fun title for this post came from a little framed art piece I spotted in the aisles of JoAnn Fabrics. While I would prefer to confess my inspiration springs from all that Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare I’ve been poring over lately (NOT!) or the endless hours minutes spent in daily prayer and reflection… I’m certain God continues to seek this undeserving soul’s attention. And He will undoubtedly work with what He has. Sometimes that’s the clearance section of a big-box fabric store.

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DON’T STEP IN IT! 5 Things you should NEVER say at a Family Gathering

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I’ve been on the receiving end of countless awkward comments. Unfortunately, I’ve uttered plenty of them too. Navigating social situations is a bit like dodging roadside IED’s while blindfolded. The obstacle course often gets more treacherous at family gatherings during the holidays. Christmas get-togethers are already rife with turmoil and stress. Merely sharing surnames and relatives doesn’t mean anyone will agree on anything: faith, politics, diet, fashion, or even what’s funny. Why would anyone want to pile on and make an already difficult situation more strained? “Pass the green bean casserole, Uncle Ned, you pony-tail wearing, commie-loving hippie!” Obviously, not appropriate. But what about the more veiled remarks delivered with the best of intentions? These little conversational nuggets are the dirty bombs of small talk. The gift that keeps giving—like my father-in-law’s homemade sugar-free cranberry sauce which packs a bitter wallop upon first taste, but the memory of that punishing, mouth-puckering sharpness lingers a lifetime.

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Where’s the Beef This Advent?

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If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll remember those Wendy’s commercials from the 1980s which featured a spritely grandma who takes apart her fast-food burger to reveal two comically oversized buns with a pathetic, tiny piece of meat nestled on one of the halves, barely detectable. It’s dwarfed by the pickle chip. An unwitting spokesperson, this little gray-haired lady, heroically takes up the voice for the rest of America. She, like all of us, is tired of being ripped off, as she rightly demands, “Where’s the beef?” (If you don’t know the commercial, trust me—it’s a laugh riot, but you should stop reading now so you can finish your spelling homework.) The point of the commercial is that other fast food joints try to pass off tiny burgers in enormous buns to unsuspecting customers, while Wendy’s clearly has their priorities straight. It’s all about what’s sandwiched between the gigantic slabs of bread, the generously portioned all-beef patty. That tiny speck of meat the other restaurants are peddling will never truly satisfy.

Recently glancing at the calendar as November winnowed away, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition of notable days. To my surprise, sandwiched between the two biggest consumer holidays of the year is the weekend which marks the beginning of Advent. I must have realized this before, but for some reason, it was the first time I really made the connection. In other words, God turned a nightlight on for His daughter. To my shock, the crucial Sunday when we begin to prepare liturgically and spiritually to welcome the Savior of the whole wide world—just happens to be bookended by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Situated poetically between a day for hardcore bargain hunters which inspires fistfights in the aisles of Walmart—and a workday when adults opt to remain in their jammies staring at blue light for hours trying to score killer deals, we find the kick-off to Advent. Is it just me or is the world committing a dastardly sleight of hand, playing up the non-essential part of our lives in the lead up to Christmas and seriously downplaying the only part that truly matters? Am I so unsuspecting and gullible as to fall for a trick like that? Not this year. I’m looking back at what the world has to offer and demanding none too politely, “Where’s the beef?”

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Hate This! Not That!

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Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!”  The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…

Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life.  Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!

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G.P.S. (God Positioning System)

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Recently, I wrote about how God spoke to me through an incidence of eavesdropping. You can read about it here. In His not-so-subtle way, the dear Lord woke me up to a weakness that regularly plagues me: I don’t trust Him. I constantly question the benevolence and guidance of the One who created me.

I pray. I read scripture. I love God. And sure I’m totally on board with His leadership when everything is running along just fine. I’m a happy passenger. But I hit a random bump in the road, or find myself in unfamiliar territory and oh boy, I’m gonna grab that wheel from the Almighty. It’s nothing short of a herculean task for me to surrender to His infinite love and trust. I think we all struggle with this to some degree, but when you tend toward the controlling end of the personality spectrum (my hand is raised real high right now) it can seem downright impossible. Maybe some of you out there can relate.

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