Going Up or Down?


The Lenten season is about to commence, leaving us Catholics to start mentally preparing for our fasts.  But just in case you are still unsure of what you want to do, here is a list of 70 things to give up or take up for Lent.  An important thing to keep in mind when deciding what to do for Lent is to try to come up with something that will actually be beneficial in advancing your spiritual life.  Now is the perfect time to sit down and have an honest heart-to-heart chat with God about what direction you are heading on your spiritual journey.  While this may seem like a complicated question it actually has only one of two answers.  Either you are going up or you are going down.

There are many distractions and struggles in our daily lives.  Sometimes we are so busy that we have a hard time differentiating one day from the next.  Thus it is very easy for us not to realize when we have let our spiritual life slip.  It can start slowly, innocently enough.  A missed alarm clock forces us to dash to our school or workplace without time or thought for morning prayer, or a particularly exhausting day leaves us too tired for bedtime prayers.  We’ve all been guilty of these little things before, but they become dangerous when we they start to become a habit.  For example, a previous engagement causes you to miss out on your weekly Bible study or parish community program one week.  Then the next week rolls around and you find yourself thinking up reasons and excuses not to go again.  Eventually you get to the point where even the idea of returning or signing up to another parish event feels like too much of a hassle.

Sadly, this pattern is common.  People in the beginnings or “re-awakenings” of their faith are always much more eager to join and be a part of things in the church, but somewhere along the way these great fires from God eventually begin to wane a bit, challenging the individuals to try to keep their flames from diminishing further by their own will-powers.  This is a common test from God to see if we are willing to sacrifice for Him as He has done for us.  It is a way of seeing if we are willing to suffer through dryness and trials for the sake of His love and not for the sake of His gifts and consolations.  This is not a selfish test from God; rather it is one of His attempts at strengthening our faith and purifying us from our worldly trappings and mindsets.  It is an uncomfortable process in varying degrees which can sometimes feel like the most painful and fatiguing obstacle we will ever face in our spiritual lives.  The point is that every relationship, including with God, requires the active and willing participation of both parties if it is to grow and survive.

I would liken the spiritual life to that of a person trying to push a car up a hill.  At the top of the hill is Jesus, who has already pushed a car infinitely bigger and heavier than yours.  He is in company with millions of others just like you, who have already pushed up their own cars of various weights and sizes up the same hill.  You know when you reach the top of the hill that all of your pains and troubles will disappear forever and that you will live in eternal happiness with God and your fellow-man.  While pushing your car up the hill, if in a moment of weakness the car slips a bit, and you catch it and keep pushing back against it, you won’t have lost much ground.  However, if it slips and you decide to step aside and let the car slide to the bottom, you’ll eventually have to go back down the hill and start the arduous task all over again.

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There are times in our lives where we will experience crippling dryness and a weakening of the spirit.  There will come periods where our burdens and trials will feel too impossible to hold onto any longer and the fear will set in that if we don’t get away from them, we will be crushed.  However, if we quickly catch our tiny slips, our occasions of falling into sin or despondency, and push back against them as much as we are able, then we will have not lost much ground in the uphill spiritual battle. But if we give into the temptations to drop our burdens and come back to them another day or time when we feel “better,” more “capable” of dealing with them, then that is when we have allowed our cars to slide to the bottom, forcing us not only to eventually go back to where we started, but also to make the formidable spiritual climb twice.

Sure, there will be those times when you find yourself stopped in the middle of the hill with your arms straining against the pressure of the car, pondering whether it is really worth it to keep going.  But remember that you cannot stay there for very long. Inevitably you must make the decision to either give up or keep pushing, otherwise your weakening spirit will make the decision for you, sending both you and the car skidding backwards.

The simple truth of the matter is that there is no “coasting” in the spiritual life. You are either advancing through daily struggle or you are simply slipping by inches.  The path to Heaven is not easy.  It is not comfortable.  Anything worth having never really is.  The path to Hell on the other hand is quite accommodating in the beginning.  Sometimes it comes in the guise of a great “relief” or “break” from our heavy burdens by dropping them and forgetting about them until a later day.  The problem is that the longer we procrastinate, the less likely we are to getting around to actually doing it, and before we know it, it’s too late.  The deadline has passed and those still standing at the bottom will not be able to meet Jesus with all those who were already laboring towards the top.  By the time you get to where they are He will have already turned His back, saying “Depart from me you wicked, lazy servant for I do not know you.”

So the question to ask yourself this Lenten season is: where are you currently standing on the hill? Are you stubbornly pushing your way towards the top or are you slowly slipping in the middle, or worse are you still standing at the bottom of the hill looking up? If you find yourself not where you want to be, then now is the perfect time to start making your way to the top.

 

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