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This Lent, know thyself (and thy temperament, too)

There are so many good ways to do Lent.

Every year around this time, I find myself overwhelmed by all the choices and wanting to do everything. I tell myself that I can, in fact, do everything…that I’m a little bit superhuman and that I can rock this Lent like no other.

I’m good at pushing myself just a little harder and stretching just a little further…until something snaps, and I find myself someplace around the end of February in tears and feeling like a big, fat failure at Lent.

For years, I thought this was just another way in which I am deficient- another weakness that I should be working with due diligence to overcome.

Then I learned about temperament.

Each of us has a temperament- a set of attributes and characteristics that makes us who we are. The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett does a wonderful job of explaining the four classic temperaments and how they affect our lives. Reading this book helped me to see that temperaments do come from God. They are how God made us in His image, with love. My own temperament (melancholic-choleric) tempts me sometimes to think that I have all negative characteristics and that the other temperaments are more desirable than mine…but temperament itself is neutral. It is how we learn to manage and work with what we’ve been given that matters.

Choosing our Lenten disciplines with temperament in mind can make them a lot more fruitful. One person might gain a lot by fasting from all sweets and coffee. Another person might benefit more from reading a spiritual classic. I tend to be very hard on myself about lots of things, so setting up opportunities where I’ll have lots of chances to judge myself harshly could actually backfire and put up barriers to my relationship with Jesus.

That’s the opposite of what we want, here.

So, this Lent, I’m taking my temperament and my life situation into account as I make my plans.

What I am doing:

cultivating a habit of praying throughout the day

My days run more smoothly when they are liberally sprinkled with prayer. I’ve never gone so far as to develop a rule for myself, but there are moments in the day when prayer is a natural fit. I have an alarm set at noon on my phone to remind us to pray along with our Angelus video while we get lunch ready. This Lent, I’m adding an alarm at 3pm to remind me to pray for mercy. I probably won’t always have time for the Divine Mercy chaplet, but that’s okay…thanks to a wise suggestion from a friend, I have labeled the alarm with “Lord, have mercy on us”- so even the act of turning off the alarm will be a prayer.

Thank goodness for smart friends.

I’ve snuck some other little prayers into spaces on the margin, like putting on my chap-stick (labeled with “set a guard over my mouth, O Lord- keep watch over the door of my lips!”) and drinking coffee (“my cup runneth over!”) I am trying to stop yelling when I feel frustrated and overwhelmed, so these little prayers help me to remember to keep my voice gentle and quiet.

practicing the daily discipline of finding God in the small things

I’m so excited about doing #HolyLens again with many of you. The community on Instagram has grown to become one of my favorite places to hang out. The discipline of finding God’s presence in everyday moments has really deepened my appreciation for the “thin places” where the holy and the mundane are rubbing against each other. These moments are all over the place- we just have to pay attention. Taking photos helps me do that.

practicing lectio divina…in the dark…on my phone

It is a true gift to have a scripture study written by busy moms for busy moms. My friends Nell, Laura and Nancy have put together a really wonderful study for Lent that centers on the practice of lectio divina, a focused, attentive, prayerful reading of a short scripture passage. There are written reflections for the beginning and ending of each week, but the heart of the study is just each woman alone with the word of God. It’s available as a pdf, so I can read it on my phone when I’m nursing a baby to sleep. That’s the only way it could work for me right now, as those seem to be the only quiet moments in my day.

If little, bite-sized chunks of thought-provoking scripture might work well for you, it’s not too late to join in this study. They even have an active facebook group where you can connect with other women who are participating. I haven’t found many minutes to get over there, but I love watching the conversation unfold.

What I am not doing:

giving up coffee

This is one sacrifice that would be harder on my family than on me. Since it’s not up to me to make their Lent miserable, I’m going to keep having that coffee in the morning. I do really love it, and it would definitely feel like a sacrifice to go without it, but as long as I have a baby who is waking up every night, I’m going to be tired…and as long as my children and I are together all day, I’m going to need that caffeine boost. It’s how it is.

studying all the writings of St. Francis de Sales

When I heard about the open online course that deSales University is offering exploring all the writing of Francis deSales, I was really excited to do it. I’ve long wanted to read some of his work, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. However, I’ve since realized that actually doing this would be too much for me right now with everything else that’s going on. I may still read some of his work this Lent, but it’s not going to be a focus for me.

With my family:

chaining together 40 days worth of prayer intentions

We always make a Lenten prayer chain with the kids, where we put the name of one person or family on each link and commit to pray for him or her on that day. We usually contact that person and ask if there is any special intention for which we can pray (and often, there is). It’s been a great way to remember our friends and family and to take extra time to hold their concerns before Jesus as we prepare for Easter.

limiting sweets to Sundays

We’ve become aware recently that our kids feel they “deserve” treats for almost everything. Whether we’d gotten overly reliant on treats as rewards or whether it’s just a stage our kids are going through, we decided as parents that it is best to nip it in the bud. So, no treats except on Sundays (which are little Easters and are exempt from our fasts). The kids are basically on board. We’ll see how it goes.

What are you working on this Lent? Are you well underway, or are you still trying to figure it out?

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