By Nicole Tittmann
By the time you read this, you probably will already have a couple of weeks of Lent under your belt. You’ve got a good handle on what you are sacrificing, and maybe you are starting to regret taking on too much. Or maybe this Lent is really easy, because you gave up soda for Lent (and let’s face it, you don’t really drink soda anyway). My go-to Lenten mistake is to fall into the former category. Every year, I think “I am going to get hardcore this Lent: no screens, no sugar, no snacking, and we are all sleeping on wooden planks!” This usually lasts till that first Sunday of Lent when I break my fast and really, really celebrate the day (like a good Catholic). Come Monday, it all seems too hard, our daily life obligations come roaring back, and several sacrifices are conveniently forgotten. By the time Easter rolls around, my gift of sacrifices for the altar looks like a gift my five-year-old would make for Mothers Day in kindergarten - not that great, and more in the “thought that counts” category.
For the past five months, I’ve gone through a training program to become a personal and professional coach. In my last training weekend my coach asked something that changed everything. I was coaching someone live and receiving feedback on my own coaching. At one point, I blurted out something that was not exactly of a growth mindset. I think my actual words were, “Ugh! This is so hard!” My coach challenged me to come up with something in my life that was meaningful, that had not been hard. For me, the most meaningful things in my life – having and raising my children, my marriage, my faith – were also some of the hardest moments in my life. The things I am most proud of and grateful for today all came through some kind of sacrifice and hardship. Exactly.
Stories that we hear about saints or heroes always involve sacrifice. Think of Mother Theresa caring for the poor. Or St. Edmund Campion, bringing the sacraments to Catholics in Anglican England. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of many martyrs who would say being drawn and quartered was easy.
What would it look like if we relate to our sacrifices as opportunities to grow in love? Not just suffering as something to be endured, but something that draws us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with God? We have heard since our CCD days that every sacrifice is meant to be united to Christ’s suffering on the cross. So we buckle down, we power through. We say the evening prayers with our kids. We go to extra masses and eat the watered down soup after stations on Fridays. And we come out of Lent on Easter Sunday overindulging in chocolates and sweets, and gain all the weight back that we lost during those forty days.
What if this Lent were different? What if we looked at the suffering as an opportunity for meaning? What could come out of that? Our actions might look the same, but our intention and our heart would be different. And in turn, we open up the possibility that our actions would be different, too. An act out of love doesn’t look the same as an act out of obligation (anyone who has had to make kids clean their rooms knows of what I speak). Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Love is the soul of sacrifice.” Maybe instead of complaining about the evening cocktail we gave up, we could be peaceful, knowing our hearts were being transformed. We would know we are letting go of the things of this earth, and appreciating and loving something more than our physical pleasures.
The power of good coaching is asking hard questions that get you to think differently about the way you are and can be. But the work resides in you, and how you respond. So the question is, how do you want to relate to your sacrifices this Lent? Do you want to continue to think, “offer it up” when confronted with something hard (or, as I so lovingly put it to my kids, “Suck it up, buttercup”).
For me, I want to think of this photo of St Therese, holding the cross like a dear friend. Over the last couple of days, the mantra I’ve been repeating has been “Embrace the Cross.” When I say this, I find a shift in my mind and my heart. I no longer see it as something I have to white-knuckle my way through, but an opportunity to kiss my cross with love. I think of that scene in The Passion, when Our Lord fell, picked himself up, and held the cross to himself with tenderness. The Impenitent Thief asked, in astonishment, “You fool! Why do you embrace your cross?” I pray that, by the end of Lent, I can answer that I do it out of love.
Nicole Tittmann is a personal and professional coach living in Los Angeles with her husband and six children. You can reach her at NicoleTittmann@mp.institute.
*Image via Society of the Little Flower