One thing I’ve felt called to this Lent is to write more and to share more of what God is stirring up in my heart. I’ll be sharing reflections taken from my daily scripture readings and personal journaling. I’m not going to focus on sharing at times that will suit the algorithm or gain the most likes/follows/comments. I’m just planning to share when the spirit moves me and trust that the folks who need these words will come to them. I’m excited to share with you all and see where this goes. As always, thank you for taking time to read and for being here. You are such a gift to me and so eternally loved, my friends. -Mary Susan
They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the judgement of their God; they ask of me just judgements, they desire to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, but you take no note?”
See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. See you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist!Isaiah 58:2-4
I’ve been spending time in Isaiah 58, pondering these words in ways I haven’t before, realizing that like most other things in life, I am guilty of making things about me. As we ease into the second week of Lent, many of us are refining our sacrifices, realizing the extent to which we’ll be challenged, reevaluating the offerings we’ve chosen, or maybe even still trying to finalize our “plan” for Lent. That’s all fine. It’s normal for Lent to begin with discomfort, frustration, doubt.
What I’m realizing is that, like many other unhealthy enneagram two’s/recovering codependents before me, my Lenten observances are often tainted by misguided motivations. And I think that’s what Isaiah is getting at here in chapter 58. Israel is seeking God, they genuinely want to know Him, to feel heard by Him, to have their sacrifice recognized by the Father…but they’re going about all of that on their terms alone. They’re checking off boxes, their fasting fueled by self-righteousness and judgement and God calls them out. It’s as if God says, “Okay, but why are you fasting? Is it to control others, to place judgement through your actions, to elevate yourself? Do you fast purely so your voice can be heard above your brother’s?”
And I have to ask myself the same questions. As I lean into this season of fasting, penance, and almsgiving, what are my motivations?
Do I sacrifice, offer myself, allow myself to be tread upon, take on the cloak of the martyr or victim as a way of making a point, drawing attention to how “good” I am while punishing everyone in my path with a bad attitude and critical demeanor? Am I loudly suffering, taking on guilt that is not my own so that I might publicly complain or lord it over others?
Is my sacrifice and fasting merely an outlet for my resentment or do I act in true humility and obedience to the Lord? Am I using my penance as a passive aggressive way to make a statement to someone in my life about behavior I don’t approve of or do I fast to achieve a specific “level” of holiness?
I must be careful that I am not using my sacrifice as a weapon, a measuring stick, a blinder that enables my pride and judgement. It’s a normal aspect of human nature to want to see where we measure up to the rest of the pack. But in that measurement, it’s easy to drift into the dangerous waters of comparison, to elevate ourselves above our brothers, to use our “holiness” as a way to make a statement about who we are rather than what God is doing in us.
So, what’s the answer here? Where can I find true communion with the Lord during this complicated season of Lent? What do I do if I realize that my motives are less than ideal?
It’s important to remember that Lent is not a contest. There is no Lent Police roaming about looking for people who aren’t “doing it right.” Each person’s Lenten observance is intimate and personal. We shouldn’t approach Lent like the Pharisees in the Bible, eager to look the part but stinted in our actual observance of God’s law. What we should do is offer grace to others. In my experience, the surest way to reorient myself to God is through service to others.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the accusing finger and malicious speech; If you lavish food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom shall become like midday; Then the Lord will guide you always and satisfy your thirst in parched places, will give strength to your bones and you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.”Isaiah 58:9b-11
Oh, my heart longs for that satisfaction from the Lord. When all of life feels like perpetual Lent and I’m asked to give more, offer more, sacrifice even more, I desperately desire my thirst to be satisfied, my bones strengthened. A watered garden sounds like paradise right now and that satisfaction only comes from a pure offering of myself to the other.
What am I yoked by? By comparison, by competition, by quick judgement, dehumanization of others. The media to which I am addicted is peppered with accusing fingers and malicious speech. Scrolling leaves me dissatisfied and disgruntled, horrified by “those” people and stuck deep in my own judgmental mire.
Who are the hungry I am called to lavishly feed? Who are these afflicted I am asked to satisfy? The poor, the lonely, the imprisoned, the children in my midst who just long to be listened to; the people in my life hungry for acceptance, not conditional on certain beliefs or behaviors, but acceptance just as they are.
I am not Christ. I cannot satisfy these needs on my own, but I can speak love to the widowed and the orphans of the Church. I can offer the lonely a seat at my table and set aside my own version of what’s best to allow the people in my life to be who God created them to be. I can sacrifice voicing my opinions and make space for the words of others. I can lay down my expectations and receive both complicated people and challenging circumstances as gift. I can give monetarily to people in need, regardless of whether or not they align perfectly with my worldview. So many are starving for affection. I can lavish love on them. I can.
It is only in that lavishing love that I will be able to see the light break through the gloom. It is only through making sacrifices that are not about me, but about loving Christ in others that I will have my own thirst quenched. It is only in recognizing the belovedness of my brother that I will gain eyes to see my own belovedness. I am strengthened by carrying the cross of Christ, a weight which nourishes my soul rather than weighing me down like so many yokes I habitually strap myself to.
Father, heal my wounded heart, reorient all of my being to your most holy Sacred Heart. Nestle me there, that my sacrifice might not be motivated by a sick attempt at administering my own form of justice, but by a desire to be healed of my own disordered affections. Help me to remember that I am responsible for myself, that before I seek to judge my brother I am called to reorient myself to You. Lord, help me to submit myself to your most holy and perfect will, that I might offer sacrifice not on my terms, but on Yours. Break down the things in me that rebel agains You. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine. Amen.