Late last Wednesday night, I snuck into the freezer when no one was looking. My throat felt sore, and surely ice cream was the only cure. Even though I had given it up for Lent. As the first few icy, creamy spoonfuls slid past my lips, I found the anesthetic effect I craved. Then the realization exploded that this new flavor was my top favorite EVER. When the empty container finally flopped on its side and stared accusingly back at me, I hung my head in shame. So much for that Lenten resolution.
The devil attacks at our moment of greatest weakness, or so it is said. That's why he tempted Jesus after 40 days in the desert with no food and water. It humbles me to learn that my greatest weakness may amount to a persistent winter cold and a full freezer.
Many years, I'm excited about Lent and the chance it gives me to push the spiritual reset button, renew my resolutions, and revive my faith. This year, I'm as enthused about Lent as I am about the U.S. presidential race. Which is to say, not much.
I could blame my malaise on encroaching middle age (encroaching? who am I kidding -- it's already here), but I've known too many folks in their 40s and 50s who seem powered by nuclear engines. I could more realistically blame it on the approaching launch of my first book, to be published by Ave Maria Press next month. Waves of anxiety are already threatening to overturn my tiny kayak of tranquility.
Energy-draining, soul-sucking thoughts parade through my head in no particular order, including: No one has ever heard of me. No one reads my blogposts, so why should they read my book. I haven't cut my hair in six months and it looks worse than Donald Trump's. I've poured ten years of my life into this book, and in the end it will not touch a single heart and it will accomplish nothing (nothing...nothing...). My spiritual director advised me to give the book to God, metaphorically speaking, and to tell God he can throw it in the ocean if he wants. Great advice, if I could follow it and really mean it.
Birthing a book has proved to be nearly as hard as birthing a baby. And I should know, since I've borne six children already. In her new book The Gift of Birth, theology professor and spiritual director Susan Windley-Daoust characterizes excruciating self-doubt as a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in the process.
But it would be giving myself too much credit to say that I've surrendered to the Holy Spirit. I'm still clutching at control with both hands. I'm plagued by aphorisms like "if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself" and haunted by memories of when I did it all myself and it still wasn't enough. Besides, I don't think stuffing an entire pint of ice cream in my face would signify a heartfelt yielding to the will of God.
And, so, I must admit that the most likely diagnosis of my condition is the spiritual weakness or inattentiveness called sloth. I'm burning the candle at both ends, says my husband. Just as an example, in one upcoming April weekend, I must (a) sing in Carnegie Hall with our cathedral choir, (b) ferry two of our daughters to an out-of-town gymnastic meet, and (c) attend our second-grader's First Communion Mass and host the after-party. (Not to mention the ongoing post-launch book publicity.) This over-busyness is classic sloth. The busier we get, the less time and energy we have for God.
I have been guilty of ignoring my own advice to make daily prayer my top priority. My soul (and consequently the rest of me) is running on fumes. In showing me my personal weakness, this Lent has revealed to me that the source of my strength does not lie in me but in God. Fortunately, it's not too late to try again, to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). Yep, even better than ice cream.
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