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To Have and to Hold and to Burn Your Dinner

It’s no surprise by now that I love opportunities to self-reflect—personal class assignments, journaling prompts, cliché mixer questions, you name it. With the busyness of life, I’ve come to appreciate rituals of self-reflection that are built into the calendar. Some people roll their eyes at the ideas of New Year’s resolutions that aren’t going to last, but I look forward to my traditions for reflecting back and looking ahead. Even though I used to be one of the eye-rollers about Valentine’s Day, I’ve even come around on that holiday. What’s bad about an excuse to schedule a date with my husband and a reminder to send cards filled with love? While it isn’t on a national calendar, I’ve always loved the Catholic Church’s season of Lent. For me, it’s an opportunity to reassess my spiritual and emotional health and commit to two months of trying to change habits and attitudes.

I’ve known for a few weeks I want to work on gratitude and joy, things I’ve been struggling to focus on in this stage of life. The imaginative story from my almost 3-year old fades into a white chatter in the background and all I see is the toys she’s strewing about the floor in the process. It’s hard to find anything to be annoyed about with the baby, but her contented nature makes it easy to try to squeeze in a chore here or there, until it seems that is the only way we’ve spent our time together. I love the days my husband gets to be at home with us; I fall in love again with his smile and his thoughtful fathering and delicious home-made bread. But on the days he’s not home, my reminders of him are the clothes he left all over the floor, the mail he brought in but didn’t put in the right spot, the ingredient I’ve grabbed to make dinner just to realize he bought the wrong thing. The vibes I give off are far from loving by the time he arrives home.

I know the migrating birds and the warming sun will bring better moods. Getting out of the apartment helps tremendously, but in the winter, the thought of bundling everyone and packing a bag and getting down the stairs feels more bothersome than just staying put in our messes and our pajamas. Unfortunately, I can’t give up winter for Lent, so I’m going to try a few small adjustments in behavior and hope that joy and gratitude follow.

I want to say I’m going to be more present to my kids or not get annoyed by the things that just come with their stages of development. But I can’t wish away the many chores that need to be done or the sleep deprivation that tests my patience. The best I can do right now is to take a few minutes of my free time to foster grateful feelings. As I lay the baby down to sleep, instead of tiptoeing out as quickly as possible, I want to take an extra moment to hold her in my arms, to gaze at her face, whisper my dreams and apologies for her. After the quiet that arrives from the many bedtime shenanigans of my daughter, I want to creep back in and brush her hair from her face. I want to study it before it morphs into someone older and more independent. I want to inhale her smell and exhale my love while I have her sitting still for just a moment. When my husband gets home from work, I want to stop whatever I’m doing and go to greet him with the enthusiasm and love that I know lies beneath the annoyed thoughts that crossed my mind all day, but that he might not. I usually dismiss this little moment because he arrives home at my most tired point in the day. Or because he’s greeting the kids anyway. Or there’s three different things cooking on the stovetop so that dinner is on time. Or maybe because I’m still waiting for unconditional love to come easy.

This Lent, I want to work harder on that love for the people I have right in front of me, who hold my heart, even if I don’t always show it. I want to show it, even if the dinner burns when I look up with a smile at the click of the turning lock on the front door.

If you practice Lent, what are you focusing on this year? How are New Year’s Resolutions going?

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