The Best-Laid Plans

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We layout the best plans for our Lenten journey. We seek to approach Easter having undergone a well thought out and executed routine of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

If you are like me, this does not always go as planned. In fact, you may have completely fallen off of your well-laid plans and think your Lent is over. What if you only have a week left? What if you have a month left? What if it is literally the day after Ash Wednesday? What happens when Lent goes wrong?

First of all, we have to get this phrase out of our vocabulary. Lent cannot go wrong. Lent is there as a gift from God to restore harmony within our souls. It can also establish peace and harmony in our soul if it was lacking to begin with.

Our Lenten penances are built upon prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is important to discern how to exercise these during Lent (and beyond), but it is never too late during Lent to add or subtract practices. First, we need to examine why we are doing these penances.

Why Do We Do Penances?

Lenten practices heighten our awareness of God and allow God’s grace to penetrate our heights and minds more readily. So, it is important to be consistent. This is where most folks fall off the plan and stay off the plan. If we waver in our Lenten practices, there are three options: abandon course, alter course, or get back on course.

Three Options – Abandon, Alter, Acknowledge

Abandoning course is not an option for the Christian. No matter how difficult like gets and no matter how much we are suffering, Christ is there to share the burden. He does not tell us, “Be complacent and you will be happy.” Instead, He tells us to take up our cross, follow Him, and live the radical life of the Beatitudes.

We can alter course slightly. We can perhaps work on only a few disciples and try to really commit to them before adding more. The spirit is often willing, but the flesh is weak. This is not an excuse to stop pressing on. Instead, it is the realization that we should challenge ourselves, but we should do so by entering by the narrow stream taking one step at a time, rather than diving headlong into the ocean.

The third option is actually the first one to try. We must acknowledge where we have not lived up to our commitments. Instead of letting this define our Lent or cause us to despair, we simply get back on course. We ask God for the grace to begin again.

The Welcome at Every Start

Proverbs 24:16 says this: “… for a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity (Proverbs 24:16).” This very wise teaching tells us that the Christian life is a long-distance run, not a short sprint. We may fall several times (read: thousands of times), but we are always invited by God’s grace to get back up and try again.

There is a beautiful line in the Mumford and Sons song “Roll Away Your Stone” that encapsulates this reality. I think it also works well for a spiritual reminder during Lent and for our entire lives, really. The line goes like this: “It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, but the welcome I receive with every start.”

It is inevitable that we will fall. It is part of our fallen human nature to be inclined to sin, to be weaker than we want to be, and to fail. However, God never fails. He never fails in extending His hand to lift us back up and get us back on course. Never be discouraged if you are clinging to God. And if you are distracted for a time, then simply allow God’s grace to give you a renewed focus.