House For Six

Lent: The Process of Discipline

Deme Crinion1 Comment
I actually had something totally different planned for this week's Lent post but my Lenten discipline has been a challenge these past weeks, so I thought we would focus on that instead.

So what did I give up for Lent?  I tossed around several possibilities...giving up coffee (I drink too much), a commitment to daily exercise (I don't), giving up desserts (I have no self-control), giving up TV or the Internet (both can be huge time wasters for me)...and the list goes on.  Since many of these options related to my lack of self-care, I decided on something I thought would trickle down into most of these areas:  I committed to go to bed early.

I think every mom can relate to coveting those precious few hours in the evening when the kids are sleeping. The house is finally quiet (perhaps a disaster, but at least quiet), and you at last have time to yourself...and to talk with your husband like two adults without having to stop every two seconds to break up an argument, answer a question, or address the foul smell coming from the one-year old. 

But sometimes we can cling a little too tightly to this time. At least I can.  In fact, before Lent, I clung so tightly that I didn't want that time to end.  I found myself staying up later and later until my average bedtime hit around midnight or later.  I have early risers, so the boys calling for "Mama" at 6am was not the sweet wake-up call it should be. 

Most parents describe these hours as the time they can finally "get stuff done"....quickly respond to emails with a clear mind, clean up from the day without another mess beginning in the next room, tackle those projects that aren't so kid-friendly, or simply relax. 

I know that I was not accomplishing any of those things by staying up so late.  I was so fatigued that I couldn't focus my thoughts or muster the energy for those tasks....but I stayed up later and later hoping that somehow I would.  I certainly wasn't waking up the next morning happy that I had stayed up so late as I savored the satisfaction of such a productive evening.  Nope.  I was reaching for that first cup of coffee to help jar me out of my sleep deprived stupor.

Eventually the extra coffee wasn't cutting it and all the extra caffeine was making matters worse - I was so tired, I would need coffee in the evening (especially to make through my evening commitments outside the house), and would be wired until the wee hours.  A vicious cycle. 

And as you can imagine I wasn't the only one suffering.  I had zero energy to give my children and or our home during the day as they deserved.  I was in an ugly survival mode.

So, after some prayer and conviction, my Lenten sacrifice was to take better care of myself.  That began with going to bed at a decent hour, for me no later than 10pm and preferably around 9:30pm.  I had to enlist the help of my husband here, because as we all know, new habits can be hard to establish.  I was grateful for the gentle (ok, stern) kick in the pants, to stop whatever I was doing and head to bed. 

I felt a difference almost right away.  The extra sleep left me feeling better rested in the morning, I could drink my coffee because I enjoyed it not because I NEEDED it (I'm down to a hot cup in the morning and an iced coffee in the afternoon), and I am able to be more focused on my tasks because I have more rest.  James and I also go to bed at the same time now on most nights.

The challenge that came along with this was a need to structure my time better.  Since I cut out 2-3 hours of my day by going to bed early, I needed to make better use of the time available in my new day.  The other part of my Lenten commitment was to pray a daily Rosary for a specific intention that had long been on my heart.  Instead of fitting this in where I could, it deserved a set time free of distractions.

Being the ultimate list maker and a detail-freak, I broke down our day and scheduled specific time for getting ready, meals, dinner prep, prayer, personal computer time, and purposeful time with the kids.  Now I will be honest, we do not follow this to the letter and some days it goes out the window completely, but it's a good guideline to help me get back on track when the wrong things creep their way up the priority list.

I also needed to accept a dose of reality that not everything will get done.  I've heard this so many times but where I failed to apply this wisdom, was in not choosing the things I would forgo in a given day in advance.  I would still try to do it all and whatever was left undone, went to the next day's list of to-do's.  I find I operate better and have more satisfaction and peace about my day, if I am realistic about what I can accomplish and make a to-do list for each day that I know I can execute in its entirety...or mostly anyway.

Lenten disciplines can take you through a process of learning.  As I put my simple commitment of going to bed early and praying for a specific intention into practice, I realized how many other areas of my life were out of proper order. 

I had let other things take the place of spending quality time with my children.  Sure, I was meeting their needs and even doing some good things with them, but I was not intentional about our time together. I was too busy trying to squeeze in all the things I wanted to do...and I would become frustrated and even resentful when my children required me to stop what I was doing and oh.....be a parent!   I was simply responding to needs or crisis that would arise, instead of thoughtfully planning our time together and carving out time for myself (so that I would not be tempted to steal it from more important moments throughout the day).

This is just one of the areas that God has opened my eyes to through this Lenten commitment.  There are many others.  My problem of neglecting to care for myself, trickled into my relationship with my children, my husband, my friends and with God. 

Now, the answer is not to hurry up, fix it all and get everything perfectly in line by Easter!  Our Lenten disciplines are not just for 40 days and then totally discarded.  If the Holy Spirit has lead us to give something up or take something on for Lent, then that discipline has significance for our soul.  Lent is the time for self-reflection but also for reflection on Christ.  We look at our lives and seek to throw off those habits and the sin that has kept us from walking with Him and living in Him. 

So, if we gave up TV for Lent, we don't need to give it up for the rest of our lives.  But we should take care not to let the lessons of our Lenten journey slip away at the end of this season.  Easter is celebration of new life in Christ, and if we are to walk in that life, we take what we have learned throughout Lent and the grace we received through forgiveness, to do just that. 

My Lent has not been perfect.  I have not always kept my commitment.  Our family was sick off and on for a month and that meant late nights up with kids and not always keeping my 10pm appointment with my bed or my afternoon appointment for prayer.  There are nights I don't get home until 10pm because of other commitments.  However, Lent is not about beating ourselves up when we miss the mark either, whatever the reason! 

For me, this season has been about a continued effort to take better care of my body, of this temple, that God has given me.  I want it to be a place where the Holy Spirit is pleased to dwell, and a body with hands, feet, a heart and a mind that is working with Him in every situation and relationship in which I live.  This is especially important when I hit a set back or when bad habits sneak back in.  The whole thing isn't a wash just because I slipped up! 

Lenten discipline requires just that, self-discipline...both to keep the commitment and to get back on track when we fall off course. It's what we need for the whole journey. And it's something that doesn't happen without grace.