How to Make The Most Out of Lent

Lent is upon us and many of us are still praying and thinking about what Lenten sacrifice or practice we should implement over the next forty days. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what we should do for Lent. Of course there are the popular ideas of giving up social media or giving up chocolate, and while these can absolutely be helpful to our personal growth and relationship with God, these and other popular Lenten ideas can often be chosen with no particular personal meaning behind them. 

Lent is not simply a time where we deprive ourselves of joy for a few weeks—just because. It is a time where we are supposed to focus on our own personal relationship with God, developing our mental, personal, and spiritual health—so that we can make more room for God in our every day lives. As Christopher West describes, Lent and fasting is “never an end in itself, it’s a means to the joy of the feast.” Lenten practices are meant to reveal to us the full and true joy of the Easter Season and God’s love for us every day of our lives. 

So what are some ways for us to achieve the fullness of Lent and the gain the most out of our Lenten practices? Here are a few ideas…

Give up trying to do everything by yourself – Self-sufficiency and independence can be great qualities to have, but there is true beauty and humility in acknowledging when we need help from others. Asking others for help can foster fruit in a variety of areas. We can develop our relationships with others when we let them into our lives in ways that allow them to take care of us in some way. Likewise, when we are always trying to do everything by ourselves, and we’re constantly taking care of others without letting them take care of us, resentment often grows without us even realizing. This resentment can creep up on us and damage our relationships with others and with God. So this Lent, take a step back, give up stubbornness, embrace humility, and reach out to others when help is needed. Or simply allow others to help if and when they offer. 

Give up overthinking and jumping to conclusions – This can be a hard one, but wow it makes a huge impact. When something small occurs, it can be all too easy—even automatic—to ruminate on the situation, overthink, and come to negative and often unrealistic conclusions. Not only can this ruin our day in about five seconds, it can also heavily impact our relationships. We may treat others differently because of a conclusion that we developed in our heads, and the other person will have no idea why we are acting the way we are acting. But how do we stop this habit of overthinking? First, take interactions and situations at face value. Don’t add ideas, put words in others’ mouths, or create outcomes that aren’t based in facts. Second, when these negative thoughts or overthinking spirals begin, instead of thinking of the most negative conclusion, intentionally think of the best possible outcome. At this point, we often begin to question, “What’s the point of thinking of the best possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Now, when this question arises, ask the same question about the negative outcome. “What’s the point of thinking of the worst possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Exactly. The difference, however, is that thinking of the best possible outcome gives us hope, while thinking of the worst outcome makes us want to give up. Hope gives us joy and helps us grow closer to God. Because of this, thinking of the positive scenarios is the more Godly practice. 

Give up over-scheduling and overworking – We live in a society that is extremely focused on achievement. Especially because of social media, we constantly feel the need to be doing something and to be able to say, “I’m so busy!” Sometimes it almost becomes a competition to see who has the busiest schedule. Being this busy leaves very little time for fun, for enjoyment, for relaxation. We lose touch with who we are as individuals, as a couple, or as a family because we are so focused on getting to the next activity or working on the next project. Give up this over-scheduling and overworking habit this Lent by setting aside time to do something that gives you joy. Make time to relax and spend time together as a family. Instead of scheduling an event or a project for work, schedule time for a date night. Whether you just hang out at home and enjoy the peace and quiet or you take a day trip to one of your favorite spots, regularly make time this Lent to step back, relax, and prioritize time to do something that brings you—or you and your family—joy.

These are just a few ideas to bring us closer to God this Lent. We don’t have to choose one of these ideas, and we certainly don’t have to practice them all. Maybe choose just one thing to work on this Lent. But as we decide what it is we will practice, let us start by asking God, “What barriers need to be removed in my life for me to be able to love You and love others the way You want me to?”  

For more on developing a deeper relationship with God, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130 and find more resources by visiting us online at CatholicCounselors.com! 

Ash Wednesday: When Mercy Rains Down

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

It’s raining here, today. Hard.

When I first woke up this morning and my eyes blinked open, I heard the rain pounding on my roof and the winds slapping against my window. My first thought was, “So gloomy.  What perfect Lenten weather.”

My second thought was, “With how hard it’s raining, those ashes won’t stay on my forehead very long.  What a shame.”

But my groggy, gloomy, lenten mood was immediately punctuated by yet another thought that could only have been the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear. “No.  How perfect.   We bring our shame to God and cover ourselves in ashes.  And immediately the winds of grace and the rains of mercy wash the stain away.”

Today’s rain isn’t depressing.  It isn’t gloomy.  God isn’t weeping tears of sadness.  He is crying tears of joy that wash away our sins and celebrate his children coming home.

This Lent, celebrate the fact that we are not defined by our sinfulness, but by the depth of his love and mercy.  For more ways to connect how much God wants to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip-of-the Day for Tues 3/19: Celebrate St. Joseph’s Feast

Today is the feast of St Joseph who, among other things, is the Patron of Workers.  Today celebrate his feast in your marriage by surprising your spouse and doing one of the jobs around the house you usually leave for your spouse.  Change that lightbulb.  Clean up the kitchen.  Bathe the baby.   Give the gift of service to your spouse by doing something you wouldn’t usually consider “your job.”  It’s a great way to both serve each other a little better and understand each other a little better too!

For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day–Get Marriage-Building Resources

Couples who are marriage masters know that you can’t build a great marriage without great tools.  Today, think about the tools you might need to take you marriage to the next level.  Check out the the library or your local bookstore for a great new relationship book (you don’t even have to agree with everything the author says.  Its about starting a conversation!), reserve your spot on a Marriage Encounter Weekend, check out the cool resources at ForYourMarriage.org.  Do something today that helps you discover some new tools to help make your marriage everything God wants it to be!

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day, Wed 3/13: Remember Your Spouse!

We are busy with so many things.  Too often, we lack what psychologists call,  “object permanence.”  We walk out the door and our loved ones “disappear.”  We forget our spouse and kids (and they forget us) until we see each other again later that evening, but sometimes we are still to distracted to really connect.  Today, remember your spouse while you are apart.  Do something thoughtful to reach across the chasm.    Pick up some flowers.  Write a little note.  Do that thoughtful task that would make your spouse’s day a little easier.  Give your mate a call to say, “I love you.”  Just because.  Remember your spouse and remind each other that you matter–even when you’re apart.

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day, Tuesday 3/12: Make a Decision to Love

We’ve all heard that love is a decision.  Today put that notion into practice.  Imagine the day ahead and the time you will spend with your spouse.  Identify two things that you can do all on your own (i.e., don’t require your spouse’s cooperation or input) that would set the tone for a more loving day.  Will you give her the TV remote?  Make him a nicer-than-usual dinner? Do the dishes without being asked?  Wear that outfit he likes?  Be more patient with those mildly annoying habits?  How will you make a decision to love…today?

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Day to A Better Marriage, Monday 3/11: 4 Steps to Becoming a Mindful Spouse

A good marriage is a mindful marriage.  Today, I’m encouraging you to do something small to cultivate a spirit of mindfulness  in your marriage.  Step one?  Read this Faith on the Couch post on what mindfulness is and how it can be a blessing to you life. 

Step Two:  Think about the way you react to your spouse.  Choose one of those less pleasant reactions and ask yourself how you would like to respond instead.  Assume that you would feel just as irritated, annoyed, or frustrated as ever, but you could choose to channel that negative emotion into a healthier, more compassionate response.  What would that response be.

Step Three:  Imagine yourself successfully doing this new thing.  Ask God for the grace to follow through.

Step Four:  Keep practicing.  Mastering your reactions takes time, but the effort will result in a better you and a better marriage.  Keep trying and refining your effort in prayer.

It’s ok to get irritated with your spouse sometimes, but being mindful about how we respond when we’re irritated can spell the difference between being a marriage master…or a marriage disaster.

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day, Wed. 3/8–Cultivate a Spirit of Understanding

Couples need to make a million decisions every day.  Most decisions can be made fairly easily, but some decisions require more thought and reflection, especially when husbands and wives don’t see eye-to-eye.  In those times, it can be easy to try to push through the disagreement, to force a conclusion before you really understand where each other is coming from.  But decisions made this way rarely work.  When one spouse feels shut down, it tends to cultivate resentment at best or causes that spouse to undermine the solution at worst, creating a spirit of mutual hostility and distrust.

Today, cultivate a spirit of understanding.  Go out of your way to communicate that your spouse is more important than your agenda.  Before you push your plan or try to press for a decision, take the time to ask questions that help you really understand where your spouse is coming from.  Don’t criticize what they say.  Don’t try to talk them out of it.  Ask questions to help you truly understand what your mate wants and why.  Then, and only then, can you ask your mate to help you think of ways you could address their concerns while considering yours as well.  Chances are, your generosity and commitment to understanding will be rewarded in kind.

Here’s a great reflection by theologian, Romano Guardini, on the virtue of understanding

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day: Thurs 3/7–Share a Laugh!

Life can get a bit tiresome.  The busy-ness and responsibility can wear anyone out.  Today, fight back against the drudgery by making a plan to laugh together.  Watch a funny movie, go to a comedy club, challenge each other to find the funniest joke-of-the-day (for a bonus, the one with the funniest joke wins a backrub)!

Celebrate the virtue of joy.  Help each other laugh at the craziness of life and discover yet another way you are God’s gifts to one another.

 

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip–Wed 3/6: Be a Little Heroic

Chances are, your spouse has asked you to do something for him or her that you’d rather not do.  I’m not referring to anything objectively immoral or personally demeaning, but rather,  those things that just “aren’t you.”  Perhaps your spouse has asked you to be more affectionate, or prayerful, or conversational, or sexual.  Perhaps your spouse has asked you to join in his or her hobby or another activity that is really important to him or her. In any case, it’s probably something you’ve said, “no” to or did once or twice, reluctantly.

It’s important to remember that God brought the two of you together because he knew that without your spouse, there are certain ways you’d never grow.  The needs your spouse expresses to you are an invitation to grow in ways God needs you to grow to become the person he needs you to be.  Today, think of one of those things your spouse has asked of you and either do it, cheerfully, or make plans to get the resources you need to be able to do it in the future (and let your spouse know that you’re doing it).

Accept the intimacy and personal growth that comes from embracing the change God wants to make in you through the gift of your mate.