By Barb Arland-Fye
Physical therapist Todd Kersten laid out my return-to-running plan that starts with exercises and a workout on the treadmill. Both of which require self-discipline. This regimen seems like an analogy to making my experience of Lent meaningful.
Craving the endorphin rush that seems unique to a good run, I want to burst out the front door of the house full speed. But that’s not physically possible because of a year away due to a broken leg that has been plated and screwed back together. The blessing of being able to run again requires time, patience and attention to details I’d never considered as a younger runner.
Likewise, Lent has always been a season I’ve just wanted to rush through and get out of! Into my 30s I followed a rote formula: Give up something (edible), drop coins into the Rice Bowl, don’t eat meat on Fridays, pray Stations of the Cross.
Life seemed too busy and demanding to make my Lenten experience anything but perfunctory. These past 13 years as editor of The Catholic Messenger, coupled with theology studies, have nudged me toward something more meaningful. Something that requires me to pay attention to the details!
While waiting for Mass to begin last Saturday night, I read an insert in the parish bulletin that talked about preparing for Lent. One point struck me: it’s not about punishment. It’s about self-discipline and perseverance in moving toward union with God. The writer talked about runners in a race suddenly “hitting the wall” and feeling an irresistible temptation to quit right now. But they don’t, because they know running through that psychological barrier — enduring that momentary physical discomfort — will get them to the finish line. I’ve been there, done that. That’s why I appreciate this verse in Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy: “I have competed well: I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2Timothy 4:7d)
The self-discipline I need for running translates to the Lenten journey in this way: I have to set aside time each day to fulfill concrete actions. I’ll plan to read Scripture, “The Little Black Book” Lenten devotional, and Father Robert Barron’s Lenten reflections — even if I have a pressing deadline or don’t feel in the mood. I’ll plan to fast from something that typically satisfies a hunger of mine. That’s as challenging as getting out of a cozy, warm bed on frigid winter mornings to run five miles before dawn.
I’ll make a more concerted effort to bring my Rice Bowl to church each weekend and dump the proceeds into the parish’s metal collection bowl designed for that purpose. The Sisters of Humility in Davenport are putting placards at each table in their dining room to remind them of people who hunger without choice. That seems like a good idea to adopt.
Stations of the Cross and soup suppers are part of the plan as well, but I’m also hoping to gather people to pray Liturgy of the Hours on Saturday evenings during Lent before Mass. This prayer of the church sanctifies the day and is prayed around the world. What a great way to commemorate Lent together.
My road back to running is demanding, occasionally discouraging and involves a little pain. That’s probably true of my Lenten journey. But I relish completing the race.