Lent brings up this crucial question every year: “What are the chains that bind us and keep us from God?”
Many of us answer this question with some quick reflection and then a bustle of resolutions. When chosen well, these commitments help to remove those external ties and attachments to distractions that keep us from growing in our relationship with God. Our deliberate acts of self-denial are key, as we often need to exercise our wills in an outward fashion before our hearts fall into line and learn to put God first.
You have probably already committed to one or two practices that will help to grow you as a disciple of Jesus and deepen your love for those around you. This means you are ready for round two, my friend. Now that you are offering your body as a living sacrifice to God and banishing the idols, it’s time to turn to your heart, your inner sanctuary. Does your heart belong to God, or do you want to make room for other desires in your heart in case God does not come through for you? As the Catechism points out, your heart is the place of conversion, where you decide for or against Him (CCC, 2563). The Catechism goes on to say, “[The heart] is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter because as an image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.” What will be your response to the crazy, lavish covenant love of God and the gift of new life He offers?
As you examine your response to this question, you probably feel the simultaneous weight of the desire to respond and the burden of weakness that can hold you back. Lent is an annual reminder to let God into your heart, to free you from the chains that keep you bound, in order that you might receive His love more freely. He wants to equip you to live in the covenant of His love! However, in our pride, when we give up one temptation to grasp at happiness, apart from God, we end up turning toward a different idol instead of returning to the Lord. We have renounced the idol, but our hearts have not repented.
The reason that you are reaching out for the potato chips or turning on Netflix might be a greater obstacle to a relationship with God than the actual behavior in the moment. It’s helpful to give up the potato chips or Netflix, but then we need to go deeper and ask “why?” to return with all our hearts to the arms of our loving Father. Some idols, like the habit of pornography use, are particularly harmful and can break our hearts by undermining the sense of control we have over our own actions. Whatever the source of pain behind our behavior, or the resulting shame, we need to bring our broken hearts back to the Lord, rather than focusing on rooting out the behavior alone. We need Jesus to heal the wounds out of which come all our attachments to sin.
Healing happens when we bring our wounds, attachments, desires, and tendencies to Our Lord and ask Him to love us right there in our weakness.
Our sins and attachments come forth as lies claiming to answer our basic desires, needs, and questions. The chocolate chip ice cream seems like a quick and easy medicine to a heavy heart, though we know that in a fleeting moment the heavy heart will still be burdened. Social media might numb a need to feel known and validated, but only for a moment before fueling self-doubt.
Pornography can have a particular stronghold, as it appeals to the deepest desires for intimacy, acceptance, and self-worth known to the human heart. Those struggling with pornography know that it does not actually provide these things.
Could it be that all these false solutions, as flat as they are, claim our attention because in a sense we do not believe that it is possible to receive the desires of our hearts? At the core, maybe we don’t believe that what we desire will eventually be provided for us in a more enduring way. Without a clear hope for the good things God provides, we let in the temptations for fleeting fulfillment. We need God to give us the gift of hope that He will fulfill the desires of our hearts.
Lent is a great time to learn to lay bare our souls to the Lord who loves us and let Him speak truth to us. This return to our Lord will provide the real answer to the longings of our hearts.
Here are ways to invite Him in during prayer:
- Quiet your mind, and remind yourself that God is present to you all the time. You could even picture Jesus sitting with you.
- Offer Jesus the various things you are giving up for Lent, and tell Him why you made these resolutions.
- Open your heart to the one who died for you; share with Him your needs today, and what you desire in your heart of hearts.
- Invite Him to be the center of your life, and pray, “Jesus, I trust you to be my joy, my happiness, my everything. I surrender to you all my hopes and desires and ask you to free me from any of the false promises of happiness I seek out every day, including (name the sins and distractions from which you seek fulfillment rather than the Lord.) I recognize that these only promise happiness and that they keep me from fully trusting you. In your name, I renounce them, Jesus, and ask you to set me free.”
- Finally, thank God for all the blessings He has given you today, and praise Him for who He is. Let yourself delight in His goodness to you.
Prayer like this might feel strange at first if you have not opened your heart to God before, but it will get easier because you were made for intimacy with God.
Ultimately, your acts of self-denial empty your life so that it can be more full of God. Invite Him to be your joy particularly as you give up what the world considers sources of happiness. Hopefully, Easter finds you with overflowing life and abundant joy, the result of Jesus living in you.
The Novena for Purity
Join Covenant Eyes and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity for nine days of focused prayer with the Novena for Purity, where you’ll ask God to strengthen you in various ways as you seek to live a life of purity.
Audience: Men and women
Resource Type: 9-Day email challenge