(I know, Lent's not over, but I've found myself so surprised by this year's Lenten experience, that I've already started writing about it. I started this post a few days ago, after Adoration, and finally am getting a chance to sit and finish it. Enjoy!)
Here it comes again: the "T" word.
One that I struggle with so much: TRUST.
I'm too focused on my own control. If I can't do it myself, I have a hard time doing it at all. I suppose I'm no more mature, spiritually, then my three year old is, developmentally?
When he masters a task, there's usually no convincing him that it would be better to have someone else complete the task. Recently, this has manifested itself in the very not-so-glorious process of potty training. He just mastered being able to complete the entire bathroom task by himself. He can manage the clothing, the flushing, the handwashing, etc. Offering to help him at any point of the process usually produces a crazily loud, shrill scream of sorts that can most often be translated into "I CAN DO IT MYSELF!!"
How often does my relationship with God look like my potty training three year old? I mean, sure, technically, he can "do it myself" when it comes to the bathroom. But, does he do a good job? One look at my bathroom floor could answer that question quite quickly.
So do I do that? I may be capable of handling it all on my own, but does that mean that I should be? Or am I more like that three year old - not quite able to perform the duties and end up making a mess out of the situation that I am in?
I hate to admit it, but I am learning this Lent that I am a lot like my potty training three year old, spiritually. I'm not willing to relinquish the control, and trust that Someone else can care for me better than I can care for myself. I'm scared to admit it, but spiritually, I'm pretty much still potty training.
Back at the beginning of this Lent, I blogged about this very topic: trust. I asked God to help lead me into a relationship with Him where I did trust Him. I wanted to fall so deeply in love with Him that I could lay everything down at His feet and have faith that He would provide for me, out of His great love for me.
So I picked out my typical Lenten fare that I thought would help me focus on trusting God: a sacrifice of some sort (which I will admit is a very challenging one, of a definite sacrificial nature), found some Lenten reading on trust, and planned out my prayer goals. Usually this kind of plan or system serves me well during Lent.
But God had other plans for me this Lent, it appears. Almost immediately after Ash Wednesday, the spiritual attacks started. They came in ways of disagreements/hurtful experiences with friends, they came in the form of major sicknesses in our house (that kept me from physically being able to keep some of my Lenten plans), they came in stress with the adoption process, they came in the form of government persecution for our faith. Everywhere I looked, I was being pushed away from what I thought I was supposed to be doing this Lent.
Through it all, though, God had a plan. He allowed these attacks to help lead me to a greater understanding, one that I recognize now is helping me to trust in Him more.
You see, there's a third "pillar" of Lenten practices in the Catholic faith. I've mentioned the first two already in this post: sacrifice and prayer. I'd always focused on these two pillars in previous years, probably because they were the most accessible for me at the time, logistically. I needed them more in previous years than this year in my preparation for Easter. I'd forgotten about the third pillar, when preparing for this year's Lenten season. This third pillar, almsgiving, wasn't even on my radar, to be totally honest.
Almsgiving, as defined by the Church is: Any material favour done to assist the needy, and prompted by charity.
Almsgiving is relative to the situation of those in need. In some cases, this translates into providing goods and services, but oftentimes (because of situational restrictions), it translates into giving of financial support.
I'd always kind of avoided this service, and justified that avoidance because we "barely had enough to survive ourselves." In some cases, that was true....but often, I think it was my own personal cop-out.
(I'm not at all implying here that those who do not give financial gifts are also "copping-out." I'm merely saying that in MY situation, I realize that I could have given more but rationalized not doing it. Please don't take this post as my judgment of YOUR situation - I am merely reflecting on my own experience).
Trusting God with our finances was something that I just didn't DO. In this part of our lives, I guess I was still potty training, convinced that it was something that I had to "do myself." In my head, I was being responsible, and isn't that what God asks of us, anyways? Being a "responsible" steward of our gifts?
It is true - we are supposed to be responsible with our money and financial gifts. But there's a slippery slope where we start defining "responsible" with "no God involved at all" and I had really slid down that slope, quite quickly. I know it was mostly because of fear - I was afraid that I would unintentionally find myself in a situation where I was unable to care for those entrusted to me (my family), and I did not trust in God's loving care and His ability to provide all that we needed.
Back to the definition of almsgiving. You'll find the word charity in the definition - charity is what prompts (causes) almsgiving. Charity can be defined as: that habit or power which disposes us to love God above all creatures for Himself, and to love ourselves and our neighbours for the sake of God.
(My gosh, are you seeing what I am seeing and where this post is going?)
I had started Lent with a prayer asking God to help me trust in Him, to help me fall more deeply in love with Him, and in His own way (which I didn't understand, of course, since I am only human), He has provided me with that growth. How?
I've been really sick for most of Lent. I'm still struggling with ear/sinus issues and not being able to sleep because of them. I have spent most of this Lent awake, and on the couch with my laptop, while my household sleeps peacefully. During all of that quiet time, I read. Some of it was my planned Lenten reading....but most of it flowed out of our adoption of Peter. I read article after article, blog after blog, financial information, testimonies of different families, reports of orphans and orphanages around the world.....just word after word about these beautiful children who are in need of so much love and care.
And it led me down a path this Lent that I didn't anticipate at all, one of almsgiving.
Now, I'm not telling you this to "toot my own horn." Not by any means. I'm still working on growing in trust and sacrificial giving (financially). But I can say, with all honesty, that we have given more this Lent than probably in all of our years as a married couple, combined. I've felt compelled to support families and children and charity groups more than I ever have before, and through prayer and discussion, Mike and I have responded to that compulsion. We've been the recipients of amazing financial support so far with the adoption process, and we feel truly blessed. God has called us to turn around and share those blessings with others who may not have the same support, and so we've tried to step out in faith and do so.
Is it scary? OH.MY.GOSH is it ever. Our entire adult lives, we've had this "plan" of paying down debt and saving up the leftovers. Sacrificial almsgiving has never been a part of this plan, I'll admit. It's HARD for me to say, "I'm going to give "x" amount of money this month, and we'll eat rice and beans again this week to make up for it" when I don't really want rice and beans to begin with.
But you know what I've learned? The fact that it is rice and beans doesn't really matter. What matters more is the fact that my family is eating rice and beans together. Food is just food. Sure, some of it is better than others, but in the end, it's just food. My family is blessed by being able to eat it together. God provides for us, always.
God is leading me into a deeper relationship with Him through almsgiving this year. I am learning how to release some of that control and trust in Him more. He has provided, every time, this Lent, and poured out blessing after blessing upon us. Every time we've stepped out in faith, or put our trust in Him.....He has not let us down.
And, honestly, now that I'm looking back at my Lent so far, I kind of giggle. Of COURSE He would use money to teach me this lesson. The one aspect of my life where I consistently fought Him - out of pride, out of arrogance, out of lack of trust - was our financial life. The one way He could be sure that I would learn my lesson and break down that largest defense that I'd built around myself was through money. Our God has a sense of humour, that's for sure.
I'm still learning, and deep down, I'm still struggling with fear of trusting Him. Those nagging doubts, worrying about having "enough" money, are still there. They still whisper in my ear, and I struggle to ignore them when I feel called to give to someone else. But I'm learning - quickly! - that what I thought I "needed" is not at all what I really need. I can pay my necessary bills and feed/clothe/shelter our family for way less than what I had thought until this Lent. I'm seeing that God will provide for my necessities, and I need to help share the gifts that He has given me so that other people can have their basic necessities.
It's a hard journey, and one that I'm not anywhere near completing. Trust is still hard for me.
But I can say, without a doubt, that God is working in my life this Lent. He's answering my prayers for a deeper relationship.....just in ways that I never imagined.
God is good!