How I Lent: Giving Up the Swirl and Shoulds

How I Lent: Giving Up the Swirl and Shoulds

The swirl of thoughts left me weary. What should my focus be? What should my days look like? What is my purpose?

The lack of answers, or my fear of failure, left me paralyzed. My present brokenness was all I seemed to know, and despite the pain, it was surprisingly comfortable.

And yet, the small flicker of hope deep within my heart convinced me there is a better way.

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” (Isaiah 35:1-2)

I had tried schedules and lists. I tried to push myself to the point of exhaustion, because I wanted to feel “normal.” Then, I swung the other way and felt worthless.

“We must live a presently existing love …” (I Believe in Love, page 61)

This quote quieted my swirling thoughts. It beckoned me to ponder my present state of feeling stuck in my life. It caused me to realize that I’m not living the way I want to live. The longing for normalcy and for my Hashimoto’s to simply go away was preventing me from being who God wants me to be in the here and now.

“… do away with this … put [your]self forever into an atmosphere of friendship with your friend Jesus … Go to Him as to a fountain of living water, as many times as necessary …” (I Believe in Love, page 63-65)

What if living with chronic illness is part of my life, my cross for the long-term? How could I stop waiting to get better and start living with grace?

With the liturgical season of Lent upon us, I started wondering how this Lent would influence the interior struggle I was enduring. How could this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving draw me closer to Jesus and all that He lovingly suffered for me?

As I contemplated plans for Lent 2017, those swirling thoughts started flooding my mind again. “There is so much I am doing wrong,” I thought to myself, “How on earth am I going to pick a good Lenten sacrifice?” I want a fruitful, blessed, and meaningful Lent, and yet my body, mind, and spirit are already worn out and weary. How could I lower the bar—you know the one—that seems to be so high, and still have a really intimate experience with the Lord this Lent?

And the Lord gave me His response through the words of a wise friend: Don’t lower the bar; throw it out.

To have a good Lent, I don’t need extensive plans. I don’t need checklists or benchmarks that will only add stress and anxiety to my already overwhelmed state of mind. I don’t need to overthink or overcomplicate Lent.

Some sage advice rings in my ear: Lent doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Him.

The answer was clear. What I needed to do this Lent was give up on the swirl and shoulds. What I needed to do was fall at His feet and let Him carry me through Lent.

“What does it matter, my Jesus, if I fall every moment? … It shows You what I am capable of, and then You will be more tempted to carry me in Your arms.” (I Believe in Love, page 66)

When facing a chronic illness, it is difficult to surrender to the reality that it is important to make self-care a priority. It is especially hard to accept this when you are a wife, a mom with a bunch of kids, and the primary homemaker. How can self-care be placed at the top of my priorities list? The guilt is tough to get over, even if it is a false guilt.

But as my spiritual director reminded me, “You are in triage.” And God has made His invitation quite clear that I am to rest in Him:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28:30)

So, I don’t mean self-care in terms of manicures and shopping sprees. What I do mean is rest, prayer, nourishment, shortening the to-do list, and being present to living this chronic illness with grace. I think it also means throwing out the idea that I “should” be de-cluttering my house, stuffing 40 bags, crafting my way through Lent, and adding more extras to my plate.

So this Lent I am giving up the swirl and the shoulds, and I am replacing them with prayer and Scriptural truths. Because His invitation is clear:

Stay close to Me. Plant yourself on the shore of My life-giving water. So that you yield fruit from this Lenten season. So that even in the midst of suffering, you do not wither and fade. So that what you do—big and small—will prosper. (Psalm 1)

What is Jesus’ invitation to you this Lent?

For more information about the Catholic Women’s Blog Network (CWBN) Blog Hop or to read how others Lent, please click the image above or HERE.

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29 thoughts on “How I Lent: Giving Up the Swirl and Shoulds

  1. Sarah,
    Thank you so much for your post. I suffer with chronic pain and can relate to so much of what you said. You have encouraged me and given me the focus I needed for my Lenten practice! In Christ,

    1. Hi there! I am so sorry to hear you are suffering with chronic pain. It is so tough when our bodies don’t function the way we hope they will. Praying that you will encounter the Lord in a deep way this Lent. If anyone understands suffering, it is Jesus! Let’s stay close to Him during these 40 days … and beyond! God bless!

  2. It’s so important to know what we are each being called to this Lent! We all have different struggles and need different things. I am doing the 40 bags thing but I’m also moving across the country and it’s something I have to do. Next year will (probably) bring it’s own totally different needs.

    Speaking of moving. Looks like we’re going to be in the St. Louis Park area. Would love to connect once we get to the area in May!

    1. Hi Kirby! I love the 40 bags thing, and I have done it before. I am just at a place where I need to stop saying I “should” do that, because everyone else is doing it. This autoimmune disease is taking a toll, and I am realizing that I truly need to start listening to the Lord giving me permission to rest instead of thinking I can “do it all.” I am so grateful for our Catholic faith that is truly personal, even though we all live within these certain guidelines. God is good!

      St. Louis Park is a great area with a GREAT parish—Holy Family! Let’s definitely connect once you get settled in! Are you on FB?

  3. I haven’t ever given anything up for lent, but I’m feeling like this year I need to give up something to focus more on God. Giving up the should and focusing more on the here and now is a great idea.

    1. I am so exciting to hear that you are considering giving something up for Lent, Amanda! Giving up something for Lent is a pure act of love for the Lord. Trusting that by giving something up, we will only grow closer to Him, because so often what we need to give up is getting in the way of loving Him. He has asked us to take up our cross and follow Him, and out of love, we say “yes!” Prayers for you!

  4. Sarah, You are so right. Please take care of yourself. Coming off of surgery at the end of January, this is the first week I’ve felt good. And I was nervous to write my post because I don’t know what all we are doing this Lent.
    But I do think being present and as Grace-filled as possible and realizing our blessings and being light/praying for others is ENOUGH!
    I loved your post. Thank you for it.
    God bless you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Emily! So often we are hardest on ourselves … We have to not worry about feeling like a spiritual wimp and comparing ourselves to others, and simply do what we can with all our heart … And yes, it is enough! God bless your Lenten journey!

  5. I love your idea of throwing away the “swirl and the shoulds” and maybe I need to do that, too. I’ve been under a lot of stress recently and continual shoulder and neck pain. I think what I need to do for Lent is rest as much as I can and spend more time in prayer and scripture.

    Your post is really very encouraging. Blessings to you!

    1. I have pain in similar areas, Gayl. I love your Lenten resolution. It sounds like we are on a similar path. So, let’s pray for each other!!

  6. I don’t suffer from chronic illness, but I can identify with what you mention here in some small way. I’m not good at taking care of myself physically, much less spiritually.

    God bless you, Sarah. This was beautiful, and just what I needed.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Ginny! I am not good at taking care of myself, either. I am realizing that it is much easier to take care of others! But I am discovering that I am less effective and helpful when I feel worn out, so I really do believe the Lord is asking me to pause and rest … His work will still be there when I am feeling better, right?! God bless your Lenten journey!

  7. Thank you for this post. I can relate in a chronic illness point of view and now being a widow after caring for my husband for many years after his strokes and heart surgeries. I am going to try to take it all in and take care of myself through rest and prayer this Lenten season. This is a hard thing for many of us mothers, wives and caregivers.

    1. Hi Maggy, I am so sorry about the loss of your husband. I can only imagine how difficult that must be. I am sure you were a real comfort to him, as you cared for him for so many years; he was in good hands! And now he is in even better hands, those of our Savior! Yes, please take time to rest and pray this Lent and be with the Lord. He wants nothing more than to restore your weary soul. God bless your Lenten journey!

  8. Wow, Sarah…really powerful post. I don’t suffer from chronic illness (I’m sorry that you do!) but your post speaks to my heart. I’m kind of worried about Lent…all the ambitious plans just always lead to discouragement and guilt and not to healthier prayer or drawing closer to Jesus, which is what I think Lent should be about. Thanks for your wise words…and thanks for quoting from my favorite book “I Believe in love”. I think I need to read that again. =)

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Monica! I completely relate to the ambitious plans that can lead to discouragement, especially with my kids. I really have to fight my perfectionism and keep it simple for me … and for them! Prayers for you, as you prepare for Lent! And yes, that book is so good! I read just a little bit during each of my prayer times, and it has been such a treasure!

  9. Yes!! Chronic illness self care is vastly different than those living without chronic illness!

    I pray that you are able to recognize that your chronic illness is a cross that can be difficult to bear, but that is can be a glorious struggle when it comes to giving it to Jesus as reparation for our sins. One of the things that helped me after I began to re-vert back to the Church and was diagnosed with my chronic illness (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) is to begin offering my ups and downs in health for the souls in Purgatory. Some days, I think I do well for them – other days, I’m sure I got some soul’s hopes up, to only dash them.

    Remember – as we approach Lent, to be kind and gentle to yourself! I’m a firm believer that God knows our hearts and intentions, and as we do our best, He will recognize the spirit and intent and give us appropriate credit!

    Gentle hugs. 🤗

    1. Thank you, Anni!! I really needed your encouraging words! I am slowly getting to this point of asking, “How can I live with this with grace, accepting it and living with it?” (Instead of just wishing it away.) God bless you this Lent!

  10. This is a beautiful post and I loved reading your stream of consciousness as you gradual come to terms where God wants you to be and what He wants you to do this Lent. I’m so sorry you live with chronic pain…I imagine your Lenten season is perpetual with the cross you carry daily, and not just at Lent. God bless you!

  11. Wow. What speaks to me here is the idea that we should be asking God for guidance in observing Lent instead of coming up with ideas on our own, even if our intentions are the best. Thanks for that insight. I am glad you are going to take care of yourself.

    1. Yes, Leslie! When I realized that, it was a huge a-ha moment, too. It also took a lot of pressure off of me, as often I think God is much gentler with us than we are with ourselves. A wise priest once told me, “Don’t ask of yourself more than God does,” and that advice enters my mind and heart almost weekly, because it is so tempting to follow my own plan, but His plan is SO much better! God bless your Lenten journey!

  12. Oh Sarah!
    What a gift you are and great example to us all to be listening to Him so closely and letting Him plan your Lent. He knows what we need best. May you rest in His arms as He carries you through Lent and you unite your suffering and pain to the pains He bore for us all. God bless you dear!!

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding, Katie. Thank you for your kindness and encouragement. God bless you, too.

  13. First, I can NOT believe how good God is that He’d allow us to MEET In person this weekend! YOU are even more beautiful than your avatar shows (if that was possible). And that beauty clearly is inside and out – and this post illustrates that point even further. The reminder that LENT IS FOR HIM not me — will be on my heart for the next 6 weeks! Thank YOU so much for sharing your heart for Christ with us on the CWBN Blog Hop!!

  14. This is beautiful, you posts always inspire me. Ever since going through your Advent devotionals you are one of my favorite bloggers 🙂 My hope for this lent is to focus in on a few goals and to do them well.

    1. Hannah, your words mean more to me than you may ever know. Thank you!! I love your simple approach to Lent. Less is almost always best! May the Lord bless you on your Lenten journey.

  15. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I tend to agree. I like to make Lent a time of achieving something healthful that God wants for me. It’s also a time of clearing our physical and mental clutter.

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