Now, I’ve never experienced this firsthand, but the stories from my friends have stuck with me. And it has occurred to me that this phrase might help challenge us during our Lenten journeys.
A typical question this time of year is “What did you give up for Lent?” Loosely translated: “How will you be depriving yourself this season?”
Unless there is real meaning behind what we’re doing, it can just sound silly. The purpose of Lent is not to further our fitness goals with Hail Mary sit-ups or to lose weight by giving up pastries.
Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman MFVA, describes Lenten fasting as “a way of preparation or as a means to deny ourselves or to decrease our selfish will so that the will of Christ may grow within.” We typically do this by abstaining from certain foods. It’s a simple way to offer up suffering because we need food, but we can do without varieties of food like chocolate or chips (as much as we try to convince ourselves). To fast from something is to willingly deny ourselves earthly pleasures to, you guessed it, “make room for Jesus.”
In the absence of something sweet, we are made more aware of our bitterness, and turn to God for guidance. It’s like cleaning your room and discovering how much dirt is actually on the floor, and having a friend around to help you sweep up the mess. But we don’t have to take the approach of self-mortification like Saint John of the Cross or Saint Theresa of Avila to get the full picture.
The core of the Lenten journey it is to learn how to love more deeply. Love transforms us. But we need a space for love to grow.
This year more than ever before, I have learned the way love hurts. Loving isn’t just red roses, ribbons, and romantic comedies; it’s dedication, cleaning up dirt, and seeing someone’s dark side. A mother carries her child for nine months before even giving birth. Let alone the labor of love that continues for the rest of her life to keep the child happy and healthy. This example is specifically relevant leading up to Easter — that haunting, sorrowful image of Mary, sitting at the foot of the cross, looking up at her dying son. It isn’t easy to love fully, and in fact can be very painful. It really requires the full extension of ourselves and then a little extra.
Every time I want to see the most pure love, I re-visit that image of Jesus on the cross, and Mary at his feet. The perfect example of “love hurts” is Jesus bleeding, suffocating, and slowly dying. And Mary silently suffering with Him. Love is something we choose, despite the pain and discomfort we will inevitably face. Jesus has already chosen us, and Lent is a time when we might choose Him.
This is why we fast, to be just a tad bit uncomfortable. Because it’s in the discomfort, that little extra, the moment we reach a little further, where we find the most fertile soil for love to be planted.
The things we choose to remove during Lent (our favorite foods, social media, etc.) might help create this space. Still, it may not work for some of us to feel that ache of absence. We might need to add something like extra exercise, an act of service, or more time dedicated to prayer to really understand sacrifice. But it’s the extension of ourselves — that “little bit less” or “little bit more” — that makes us more aware of just how much it means to suffer for a great love, as Jesus did.
This Lent, whichever sacrifice you’ve chosen or challenge you’ve taken on, remember what the purpose is. You’re in that in-between space, stretching yourself for a reason. It is in that space that we can hear God whisper, “Thanks for leaving me some room.”