Lent: A Season for Making Time
Lent is upon us once again. Here on California’s Central Coast, the experience of Lent is different in many ways from that of folks in much of the Northern Hemisphere. No sign of snow or the Arctic blasts of a winter that won’t end. It’s not like the weather of the global South either, where summer weather is beginning to shift towards fall. True, the much needed rain has arrived at last as we near the end of rainy season, but so much more is needed that we are facing restrictions on water use rather than wondering what we’ll do when the snow all melts.
Yet despite the difference between our weather and life-styles here and those of so many others in our country and world, Lent has come. How do we celebrate its coming? What do we have in common as Christians around the world?
Time is one of the most precious gifts we have received from God because our lives on Earth are lived within its boundaries. Though objectively it passes at the same rate for all of us and at the same speed each day of our lives, time sometimes seems to go quickly and sometimes far too slowly. During some seasons of our lives we have far too many voices calling, demanding, our attention and a share of our time. During others we wish there were more to do and more people who were interested in doing something with us. As children, the time before Christmas and the time before Easter seem to stretch on without end. Then the big day comes and suddenly it’s all over. (Sometimes that happens to grown-ups too.) Regardless of whether it passes quickly or slowly, time is a fundamental reality of our lives, so maybe that is the place to start.
Our God has given each of us 24 hours in each day. Most of that time is already scheduled for important activities of daily life: sleep, work, eating, spending time with family members, and so forth. But God would like to have a few minutes with us each day too, just to keep in touch and maintain a relationship. Lent is a good time to get in the habit of giving God a place in life each day.
Time for Sale?
Where will time for God be found? It’s not on a shelf in a department store or on Craig’s List. Time is too precious to be for sale. Time comes in quiet ways, without blaring trumpets. Time’s at the red light where you have to stop on the way to work. Time waits in the line at the grocery store. Time is there rocking a child to sleep. Time waits in the last few minutes before turning off the lights and going to sleep. Time greets us in the few quiet minutes in the morning before the household awakens.
When I was a child, the focus during Lent was expressed in a simple question. “What are you giving up for Lent?” For many of us it was candy and/or television. The experience of giving up something that we liked and were used to having was a good exercise in self-control. It also broke patterns of behavior that were not necessarily good for us and prepared us for a new season and new activities. Giving up something that took time from family or other positive activities was a good thing. It’s still not a bad idea, since it frees up time for something more important.
A Positive Approach that Doesn’t Take More Time?
Today we tend not to speak of Lent so much in terms of giving up something. Instead we speak of what positive thing will we do. That can become a problem, however, if rather than making time to spend with God, we fill up the little time we have with activities “about God” or trying to do more of some activity. Making time for God does not mean taking more religious education classes or taking on more service projects.
To make time for God, something else must be emptied from that time slot. It’s OK to be creative in doing this. Here are a few suggestions.
- Put a booklet of reflections by your bed or in the bathroom.
- Subscribe to a monthly collection of prayers and reflections such as Give Us This Day or Magnificat. Take the time to pray with the scriptures collected for each day.
- Take a few minutes in the middle of your day and just before you go to bed to practice the Ignatian Examen.
- Try Lectio Divina. the practice of selecting a Scripture reading, reading it slowly and attentively several times, then quietly letting yourself be present with God in the scene or passage selected.
- Pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer or Night Prayer during the day. The Liturgy of the Hours, of which these are a part, is the official prayer of the Church. It doesn’t take long and helps put the rest of the day in perspective. Online versions are available at iBreviary or eBreviary.
- Pray the Angelus at noon or at 5 pm or both.
- Take a few minutes to read someone else’s insights about the spiritual life and see whether there might be something for you as well. One that I particularly enjoy was written by Fr. Amand Nigro, S.J. many years ago, That Hour with Jesus. It’s worth returning to often.
Bottom Line: Set a time during the day when you can spend 5 minutes just being with God. For most of us that feels like a lot of time to squeeze out from family and work demands. But like any time spent with a close friend who is going to help us get through the things we need to get done, that little bit of time being together and visiting makes everything else go more smoothly. Lots more gets done with a little help. Who better to help us through the day than our God!