The spiritual journey of life is a funny thing. Sometimes we feel so close to God, sometimes he seems frighteningly far away. The hardest times for me are when I feel like I’m just drifting, but not even in water. Like I’m in the middle of a desert too far from either side to figure out where I am.
So often Lent feels this way for me. I can’t decide if it’s the circumstances of my life this time of year, or if God allows me this little suffering. It really does feel like a journey for me, and not necessarily one that I’m dominating.
And that’s good.
I started to feel discouraged about some of my Lenten commitments recently and I realized it was mostly because none of it was anything I wanted to share publicly. I can’t regale you with my 40-day juice fast or impress you with my hour-long daily prayer. Because it didn’t happen. I had some small successes in a few little areas but nothing worth bragging about.
And that’s good.
But here’s the good news: oane particular Lenten sacrifice was presented to me at the very start of the Lent. I made a commitment to do something that I quickly realized was more than I anticipated. But it was a very good thing to do, something I knew God wanted me to do. And so, I did it.
At first, I am embarrassed to admit, I did it a tad begrudgingly. Like, ok! Here I am! I’ll do this thing for you, Lord! Instead of any chance of being a saint, I was wholeheartedly being a martyr. Look at me! Look at my sacrifice!
It was ridiculous. I was doing the task, but oh my attitude! How it stunk.
And God, in his loving way, gently showed me my fault. I always know it’s God in these situations because the good thought is so far off of where I currently am. I knew, in my spirit, that what God wanted from me was this little sacrifice — but with a heart of joy.
That, I am learning, is where the victory comes. Oh sure God can use our stinginess; he can take any small morsel we offer him (even if it comes with a bad attitude) and use it for good. But what a happy father he is when we serve him with joy.
So I tried, just a little, to do good. I did the same task, but I smiled a little. I thought less about me and the grand sacrifice of my time and I just did what God wanted me to do.
In the end, this small thing (really, it’s amazing what a small thing this was) was the thing God really wanted from me this Lent. This is where I grew the most, I know. Not the fasting, which was good. Or the spiritual reading, which was helpful. But those were the things I chose, the things I thought would be good for me this Lent.
Taking up this little cross Jesus set before me, the thing presented to me that I thought I could not do — that was my chance for growth and change this Lenten season. And in the dryness and struggle, God showed up. Little by little I saw a change in my heart, a trust in God’s love and providence for me.
We can do the thing we think we cannot do.
Sometimes God feels very near. I love that feeling, I can do anything when I feel that way.
But sometimes, we are in the desert. And God is still very near, we just don’t sense it. That’s when we really grow, when we do what he asks because we trust him, because we are confident in his great love for each one of us.