So, it is once again Lent. The super penitential season for Catholics, where it is traditional to give up things which are not bad for you, as a way of developing discipline and mastery over the self. Unless you're me. This is the 4th Lent in a row, that I've either been pregnant, or breastfeeding. Both of those conditions exempt one from fasting, and depending on which site you look on, abstaining from meat too. Except non-meat sources of protein are pretty easy to come by, so I do abstain. But I digress. For the fourth year in a row, my Lenten goals have been "take better care of me". So instead of giving stuff up, I've been all "actually eat more", "go to bed when I'm tired", "sleep in if possible", "eat that cookie, because for goodness sake you're feeding two people". And I've felt guilty about it, because it seems to go so against the point of the season, and even the point of Christianity. "Taking care of me" seems like the opposite of "give of oneself selflessly". Thanks to a couple of homilies and much contemplation, I have come to understand that it isn't really selfish at all. I hope I can explain in a way that makes sense.
Our first priority is to get ourselves to heaven. We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Fleeing from temptation, making sacrifices, prayer, the Sacraments, and other spiritual practices easily come to mind as ways that we are able to cooperate with Christ's redemption of our souls. The needs of the body often get overlooked, I think to our detriment sometimes. What do I mean? Well, have you ever been hangry? Crabby and grouchy simply from low blood sugar, but as soon as you eat you're back to your normal self? Now, I'm not saying it is a sin to be crabby, but it certainly is a lot easier to lose one's patience when irritable, believe you me. Think how many situations like that could have been avoided, had we only eaten breakfast* (or snack, or lunch, or whatever)? Or when we run ourselves to the ground, taking care of everyone but ourselves, because it is the "selfless" thing to do, yet lose control of ourselves in the process?
Sometimes, I think, we try to be like the great saints, but forget that we are not actually at their level of sanctity yet, and wonder why our constant giving of self without time to recharge doesn't seem to be bringing us any closer to holiness, and perhaps causes us to backtrack. At least, that was the conclusion I came to a little while ago. For many, many years I've been saying "no" to myself and the things I like, in part because we're called to be selfless, and in part because I don't like conflict and desperately want to be liked. I've been denying myself those things which I need to recharge, and it all finally came crashing down before my last post. After all that time, I'm no closer to heaven, and in many ways much farther from it than I ought to be. "But the great saints didn't need to recharge!" I hear you say. That's because they were at a level of personal holiness where being an instrument of the Divine Will was for them a recharge; and all of them made sure to carve out copious amounts of time for prayer, which also renews the spirit.
I'm not there yet. It took a breakdown for me to realize that I can't really take care of anyone else, if I don't take care of myself. Since it is my vocation to take care of others, I need to do what it takes for me actually be able to do that, and do it well, even when it seems so counter-Christian, counter-sanctification. My vocation is to be the best wife and mother that I can be, and where I am in my journey toward heaven that means taking time for me to recharge, even if it seems selfish. Because one cannot give what one does not have.
*The two homilies: The first was given by Fr. Gee at Christendom a while ago, and he started it by giving the example of a person who decided to give up breakfast for Lent, but ended up a horrible person by the end of the day, with the basic premise of not choosing penances that end up making us worse people instead of better ones. The second was given by Fr. Fasano a couple Sundays ago, where he likened venial sin to a spiritual cold, and said that any reasonable person who actually has a physical cold would do what he could to help heal the body quickly, and we should act similarly with our "spiritual colds" and frequent the sacrament of confession to help heal our soul. Because I had been thinking about it, my mind easily made the connection that perhaps some trials would be avoided if we took care to make sure our bodies were in decent shape, because matter does effect the spirit.