Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Forgoing The Seven-Week Plan

This morning, while cleaning off my nightstand so that it might reflect a Lenten simplicity, I found an old notebook. And while flipping through it, I found a page dated October 7, 2016. The rather ambitious title of the list was "5 Year Plan -- 2021".

Darwin and I had clearly been blue-skying about the future here. In twelve months I was supposed to sell Stillwater to a publisher; in two years to clean up an older novel for submission and start drafting new story ideas. Darwin was to be presenting at professional pricing conferences within two years; within three years he would write a popular book on the subject and self-publish it as an experiment with marketing and pricing strategies; by 40 he would be promoted to a vice president at work.

On July 8, 2017 -- nine months and one day later -- Paul was born.

Some of our plans have simply not happened. I was hard at work on revising Stillwater even on the very day I made the list; an agent was even looking at it. Once I started morning sickness, everything that was unessential fell by the wayside -- including writing. Nothing like perpetual weariness and nausea to make you reassess what's actually crucial to day-to-day survival. Darwin has not written his popular pricing book, nor is he yet a vice president (though he's still only in his second month of being 40, so who knows?).

Some things did happen, differently than we expected. Darwin spoke at the conference for the pricing society within one year, not two, and he's presenting again this spring. I haven't cleaned up my older novel, but I did write my Hallmark Christmas story/King Lear mashup last Christmas, and we're planning to use that novella as our experiment in self-publishing next Christmas.

And some things were simply not on our horizon, including a bouncy 20 month-old who has a fluff of naughty curls on the top of his head, who can intelligently verbalize his needs to me (as long as those needs are cheese), and can greet and dismiss people with the best of them. Even as I type, he's padding around the living room in a footy dino sleeper, intently dismantling a Transformer. There is, in fact, no finer fellow, only we didn't know that when we were making our five-year plan as if we could predict every good thing.

It's easy to overplan Lent: to make lists of all the sacrifices one ought to be making, and the virtuous practices to incorporate into daily life. I should give up social media, but I should also fast two days a week, and cut out sugar, and no more second helpings, and also I should get up early and read a devotional book and go to daily mass and write every day and spend ten minutes in meditation. All good things, sure. But the penitence of Lent is penitence as preparation. It's a stripping away of what's inessential, so that by Easter my soul is ready to be filled and consumed by the glory of the Resurrection. Committing to a sacrifice as a discipline is a good thing, but the Church does already prescribe a communal discipline: fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; abstinence on Fridays. For me, trying to pile on the practices becomes a matter of control, not of spiritual growth.

In past Lents, I've seen a progressive stripping-away as I move closer to the Triduum. Even without planning it, it seems right to add this practice or cut out this food or habit with each passing week, as the reality of Good Friday draws nearer. Forty days out, the Passion seems so distant. During Holy Week, it's almost impossible not to be in a state of anticipation, where everything unnecessary falls away. And each week suggests its own penance or practice, whether I've planned something or not. The essential thing is to be ready to do the thing placed before me each day. "Ears open to obedience you gave me," as the psalm says in Morning Prayer.

Then I said, behold I come,
To do your will, O God, is my delight.


mandamum said...

Since I've had kids, I've mostly had my Lent "planned" for me, and it usually involves family sickness. One unfortunate outcome of this is that our family is not nearly enthusiastic about Lent as I used to be as a single person more "in control" of my sacrifices.... It's a sort of "Lent is here, so we're doomed" feeling. But it does make Easter all the more sweet, as the shadow lifts :)

I was just thinking that it will take a bit of readjustment when I'm no longer exclusively nursing or pregnant, and not having little germ-carriers may reshape our Lent too.... Since my husband came into the Church last Easter, we actually have a faster in the family again, which is also an adjustment.

I like your image of gradual stripping-away. With my little people, we tend to try to get a feel for the long trip through Lent with calendars and such, but we also do a lot more in those last two-three weeks, so the short attention spans are still engaged by Holy Week and Triduum.

bearing said...

One of the things that is not as essential as I often make it out to be is planning. To do so is a way of exerting control, or trying to, and whil this works for me much of the year, letting go of that control seems appropriate for the season. Trying instead to be more attentive, moment to moment; more quiet; less greedy; open to the fine distinction between self-examination and self-focus; something that can’t really be predicted or pre-arranged. I can plan to read a particular work of spirituality but not plan how it will move me; can plan to forgo a meal but not plan what challenges will lie ahead; can plan to listen more but not dictate what I will hear when I do. And that’s true all year long, but Lent feels like the time to live less in denial about it.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

More and more I'm coming to see Lent as a season for a kind of mindfulness. I come up with a long list of things that would be good for me to do. And sometimes I even do some of them. But often I let them go. Sometimes they were plans I needed to let go. Sometimes I probably should have stuck it out. Mostly these days my reaction to Lent is resignation: oh boy here we go again. Let's see how totally unprepared I'll feel at Easter *this* year? Because if I can count on one thing, it's that by Easter I will feel thoroughly defeated and will be certain that I've wasted my Lent, squandered all the opportunities of the season. Here we go again.

AHS said...

I've been trying hard to think of Lent as focused on 'attention' this year-- which I guess is similar to Melanie's comments on mindfulness. I'm also trying to remember the words of the Carmelite brother who helped with my RCIA class: that grace does not come through emotion. Admittedly, though, *feeling* really prepared is ever so nice.

I also no longer make five-year plans (which was recommended for academic careers)-- not only because I'm no longer an academic, but because they so often ended like yours.

mrsdarwin said...

AHS, in pregnancy? :)

AHS said...

Well, both my kids are December due dates so I haven't had a Lenten pregnancy yet, but yes... pregnancy, special needs parenting, and thyroid cancer took over not one but three Lents, starting with the year I had a Fat Tuesday doctor's appointment and told her we were hoping to have kids soon, and she said, "hm... your thyroid feels lumpy."

Jenny said...

This year, I have had trouble focusing on Lent at all. I usually have some minor project in mind, but this year, I have yet to coalesce on anything. February was such a cluster and I still feel mentally hung over.

In better news, our Ash Wednesday Mass was overflowing to the brim. It was awe-inspiring to see the people pouring into the building. Our fire marshal occupancy is around 650 people, but the head count netted 821 souls present. We spent Mass by the very back door on the other side of the Narthex with people packed in on all sides. An impressive number of people.