There is pain in the offering…

This Lent was such a roller coaster of devotion for me. I began by participating with my prayer team in the “Game On Diet” (modified version). We were to spend 30 days (or 4 weeks) following a regimen which included, but was not limited to, getting at least 7 hours sleep per night, drinking about 12 glasses of water a day, exercising 20 minutes a day, completing practice of a new habit, and getting rid of a bad habit. We had two teams which competed against each other and got points for each item, which were accumulated at the end of the week and compared. Our team almost always won, but to no credit of my own. This was a great start to Lent, it helped me very aware of taking care of myself–which is new for me–and helped me kick off Lent by practicing warding off one of my many vices.

My plan was to build up more and more sacrifices until Holy Week, in which I would really let myself have it, and deprive myself of most of my human comforts. This model was after my dear mother-in-law, God rest her soul. As Easter approached each year, during Lent it was the Eastern Orthodox practice to add in deprivations. At least to my understanding, she would slowly take something off the family diet each week, intensifying this effect as Easter approached. For example, one week there would be no meat, the next no dairy, then no animal fats whatsoever, and finally down to a diet of plain bean soup (no salt or seasoning) or something similarly bland. I was always in awe of her as Easter approached. She spend endless hours making and preparing the food for Easter Sunday. She made macaroni salad, homemade sweet bread (I think called “Kozenyak”…don’t mind the spelling) and lots of dishes with boiled eggs. She would color dozens of eggs herself, and these were used to determine the king of the hill on Easter, as you “clinked” egg tops against egg bottoms to see whose cracked first. One year I smashed everyone I challenged using the same egg! All of this while she ate nearly nothing at all, and in a spiritual attitude of thankfulness and service to Christ and her family.

In the middle of Lent, which sometimes happens, we went on Spring Break. We went to Scottsdale, Arizona, where the sun knows no limits. So foreign to us Ohioans, after months and months of not seeing the sun, I promptly texted all our family and friends in Ohio to say “I found it! The sun still exists out there!” We had a week in luxury and a diet to match. All mortifications were out the door. We dined at some of the most amazing places, tried cocktails of varied ingredients (still love the “prickly pear martini” I had last visit) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Thank you God.

Seeing as I had to be shackled and dragged back across the county to Ohio, where I refused to live after that final confirmation of sun when we had suffered so long without it, I decided that my mortification was living in Ohio (I apologize to Jeanne the Archangel, and many others who love it here). Many Lenten seasons have gone by when I had decided that living without the sunshine for 6 months out of the year was cruel enough for me to offer as suffering, only I was unable to shut up about it, and thereby depressed all those who are content with their heartland surroundings and weather. I also lost all of those graces to offer to God as “suffering”…they fell under the category of  “whining” instead.

As I tried to sort through the mess I had made of my Lenten offering for Jesus, I stuck with one or two of the main worldly attachments (computer games, sweets, etc.) and then tried to reel it all in for Holy Week. What I found was myself being so dispersed in all of my attempts that I was easily conquered by my own lack of decision (they don’t say “Divide and Conquer” for no reason at all).  After consulting a good and trusted friend of mine, she couldn’t help but  giggle at my problem…”What to give up for Holy Week?”.  After listing all of the things I had tried to give up to this Lent, she laughed hysterically (and with good reason) and said I needed to go back to one main thing, maybe just the hardest thing for me to offer.

I realized this week, as I tried to mortify myself one way or another (some were good attempts  and some were wimpy) that the real offering was living myself as if there was no Holy Week at all. In our culture, the mortification is so discouraged, that no one seems to understand what is going on spiritually with Christ, that Calgary is being brought forth in time, made present to us. We are asked to walk this painful journey with him.

I learned not so long ago, that shopping and other “public spectacles” should not to be part of our Holy Week journey if at all possible, understandably. Even so, I was “forced” to make many shopping trips this week (not my favorite thing really anyway) for preparation for the holiday when I noticed that Easter has hardly ANYTHING to do with Jesus anymore in the consumer market. I spent 20 minutes looking through a huge selection of Easter cards until I finally found one with Jesus’ name on it. And I do mean one. There may have been a couple of others mentioning God, but I wonder how offended God would be in us considering Easter and celebrating it without mentioning that most precious gift of His Only Son, who He sacrificed to us because we are so messed up, we can’t even not sin for one minute (speaking of myself to begin with here).  That would be like there being a party in honor of you, which you were not permitted to attend, or the invite said something like “Isn’t this guy in the nude wearing bunny ears a great way to celebrate (your name’s) death and resurrection?”  (I saw more cards like this…) Only it didn’t even say your name, and you were not really anything to do with it, but we all knew it was because of you and chose to ignore that part.

Good Friday was a sort of torment all of its own because a “Good Friday” would have been to go and sit in church all day and contemplate Christ and accompany him through his suffering. But not the case, it went on as usual, everyone home from school and work, dishes, laundry and Disney Channel (till I kindly requested it be watched in another room).  I was so grateful to be with my family of course, but my heart yearned to console Jesus. I chose to offer the fact that I could only do it in the way he called me to, as a wife and a mother. A wonderful thing that did happen was that our family did participate in the Rosary that was requested of all Catholic families between noon and 3pm, (via email) knowing the power of the rosary in the conversion of souls, especially on this of all days. And little Cirque and I made “Tomb” cookies. We read the scriptures as we added the ingredients: salt for the bitter tears of those who watched Jesus suffer; sugar for the sweet love of God to give us his son; egg (whites) representing life; and vinegar for the sponge they offered Jesus with sour wine when he said “I thirst”. 

I guess the sum of these thoughts is that the REAL and TRUE offering this Lent, came without any effort at all. It was living a day where the One Who Made The Moon and Stars gave us His Only Son, who died for us, as the world continued to turn, and the stores continued to sell products in the name of Easter, that had nothing to do with Jesus. I guess what they say is true, there is pain in an offering (read Psalm 51).  I know my true offerings begin with my own pain, which is nothing compared to the One who gave his life for all of us, even though we spit in his face, and he was sinless.

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