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.
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.”