This is one in a series of Lenten reflections.
By Alicia Patterson
Special to The Catholic Times
“God uses challenges to call us deeper into faith,” a priest once told me. Well, freshman year of college I had plenty of challenges but I instead of reaching deeper into faith I was getting stuck. Lent was the catalyst to join those challenges and my faith together and move me towards the best version of myself.
I was spiritually dehydrated. Like many college freshman, I missed the solid counsel of my parents and our tight-knit family unit. I had little confidence in myself and where I was headed. I was scared that at any moment, all the pieces of track, sleep, be a good friend, be a good student were going to slip through my hands. I couldn’t find friends who wanted to have conversations about our obligation to people in need or purpose of relationships. The weird things that happen in college — like trying to take a shower on a Saturday afternoon but the entire time someone is retching and crying in the bathroom, so much so you can hear it down the hall through the walls of your room — bothered and haunted me.
I distinctly remember walking to Sr. Dorothy Ederer’s office for our first meeting of St. Mary’s Busy Student Lenten retreat, which features weekly meetings throughout Lent with a spiritual sponsor in the parish. I remember noticing the puddles in the sidewalk and for some strange reason, I remember relating my frame of mind to those puddles. They were left in the cracks of the city, trapped in the freeze/thaw cycle, waiting for the sun to take them somewhere else. And that was how I felt.
When is the last time someone reminded you that you are God’s creation? When someone challenged you to seek out all the hundreds of moments of joy in your life? When is the last time you had tornado conversations about Jesus and courage and family? When is the last time you got down to the heart of a prayer and felt the intimacy on its insides? When is the last time you fasted from emptiness and sought out God?
All these things happened for me during Sr. Dorothy’s and my time together. She taught me to believe in prayer. She asked God to heal me and gave me a glimpse of God’s unconditional love and patience. She gave me the wisdom and perspective I needed to see in the middle-of-drunk peers-puking-in-the-bathroom culture. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord,” she quoted St. Augustine time and time again, pushing to me to see that my loneliness and questions could not be resolved anywhere else but in God.
I wrote letters to people I loved to fast on negativity and to work on gratitude. I journaled daily, fasting on emptiness and working on prayer and reflection. I sought out random acts of kindness to fast on selfishness and to work on service— all at the instruction of Sr. Dorothy. My journal entries went from: “I spent so many of my nights feeling like everything is falling out from underneath me” and “I am scared any given moment I will fail,” to “I sat in the sun for an hour and everything wasn’t perfect, but I could be happy in that moment.” It’s not as if the challenges went away, but I had something to hang out to during them. I believed God truly did love me and wanted fulfillment for me.
The beauty of Lent is that it is a season in which you are called to come out of your brokenness. You are asked to be honest both about your mistakes and the places that need God’s work the most. It is a time of sustained spiritual effort. Lent asks you take this time and work to grow deeper in faith — whatever your spiritual needs maybe. I needed to feel the force of God’s love and the promise of God’s peace that prayer can bring. I need to make a conscious effort to work on my prayer life. You might need to leave your past behind and fast on fear.
But the success of Lent, the excitement of it is that it asks for your sustained effort, for your daily work. It does not ask for grand proclamations, but for your reflection and honest effort. It is a process. It does not come in seven days, but in 40, giving you the time you need to cook and to let your frustrations free until you come out with something hold onto in the challenges you will face down the road. It asks you take the suffering that your spiritual works brings and to bring it into communion with Christ.
The grace of Lent lies in its true aim of hope. At the end of Lent, Christ fulfils all of the promises. At the end of Lent, we come out of hurt and our failings and celebrate life. We see God in the sunrise, spreading joy and warmth through a sleepy earth. In the peace before everything spills out. Like Christ, it is a new chance. It is a reminder of how God is always forgiving, because dawn comes even after the darkest of nights. And sunrise is committed. It returns after every darkness, determined to spread its light again.
Alicia Patterson is second year philosophy major at the University of Michigan, where she is also a member of the cross country and track team. She is one of three daughters of Patrick and Teresa Patterson of Dewitt. A member of St. Mary Student Parish in Ann Arbor, she is an avid coffee drinker, always searching for the perfect cup.