Lent is in full swing, a time for penance, almsgiving and fasting, but it occurs to me in this fast paced and chaotic world we’re living in that a more appropriate “fast” could be to go “slow”.
Jesus said, “Unless you become as little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. Let’s think about that. What is the essence of childhood? Wonder! Children by their nature are present to all that’s good, beautiful and true around them. They’re not so “busy” as we adults are. I think the single greatest source of emotional dysfunction and stress today is our inability to simply “be”- to be present to the goodness around us and especially to the goodness in the people around us. Not only do we each lose out, but it’s caused a virtual epidemic of emotional suffering in our society.
Dr. Conrad Baars, the eminent Catholic psychiatrist, wrote extensively on the basic human need we all have for Authentic Affirmation. And when we talk about “affirmation”, please don’t confuse it with positive affirming statements we may use to bolster our self esteem. Sure, they have their place, but the affirmation that Dr. Baars talked about is something much deeper, more fundamental and more powerful.
Authentic Affirmation is when we are fully present to another, we allow ourselves to be moved in our hearts by their goodness and we reveal it to them in a way that they can feel. Ponder that statement. When you meet a truly affirming person, you know it. You feel like you exist for them and that your existence is good. You can tell that they delight in you. There’s nothing like it. In the “rock star” culture in which we have lived, figures like St. Pope John Paul II and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta had shined in a way during their lifetime that no celebrity ever could. Why? Because not only did they reflect the love of God publicly, but they reflected it in personal encounters that breathed life into everyone they had met. That’s the call for each and every one of us – but we can’t give what we don’t have.
Sadly, too many children grow up without this basic need satisfied. Family strife, financial pressure, addictions and broken homes create a negative environment where children often get lost in the chaos. So many stressed-out parents simply have nothing left at the end of the day to give. Life has become very practical- utilitarian, if you will, even in the “therapy” that’s offered out there. Pills and expedient solutions just don’t cut it when this basic need is frustrated. Without Authentic Affirmation, people grow up but still remain feeling inside like little children…lonely, unsure of themselves and sad – waiting and hoping someone will “see” them and break them out of their lonely prisons. When they have children of their own, they’re unable to give what they never received and the cycle continues. St. Mother Teresa spoke of this when she referred to the “poverty of the west” being a poverty of love – so true!
But it’s never too late! Since the purpose of Lent is ultimately to grow closer to God and to really understand and embrace His love for you, what better time to slow down and be more present to Him all around you…in the beauty of nature, of music and fine art, in your children or even in something as simple as a good cup of coffee.
Slow down! Be present…if even for only 15 minutes. (Talk about a stress buster!)
Sure, penance is an important part of Lent, an essential component to conquer sin and our sinful tendencies. We all have them and root them out, we must. But remember, the ultimate goal of Lent is to experience Jesus’ saving love for you personally, so SLOW down during this Lenten season.
May God bless you on your Lenten journey and may you experience true joy through the cross to glory.
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