Ten years ago, when Anne was four years old, and Betsy was a toddler, I had my first inkling of real Lenten temptation.
Oh, yes, previously, I'd been tempted to eat chocolate, or to have a juicy burger on a Friday, but all that seemed quite benign in comparison to a moment at Mass, on the first weekend of Lent ten years ago.
I was a relatively new Catholic and Atticus was not even thinking of becoming Catholic. But, I was certain this would be the year that I'd be a shining, stellar example to him of patience, faith and God's love. I would let Christ shine through me so clearly, so incredibly, that my husband could not help but be touched, and could not help but run to the nearest priest and beg to be brought into the Church.
I breezed through Ash Wednesday, not even missing the things I'd given up. I was too focused on being so good, for Atticus's benefit.
On the first weekend of Lent, we went to Mass on Saturday night. Atticus came along, because he'd made a Lenten promise of his own: although he wasn't considering Catholicism, he offered to attend Mass with me every week during Lent.
Normally, he didn't go at all. And, since he stayed home, he usually kept our very little girls with him, and I zipped off to Mass alone. Though I longed for us to be "one of those families -- the ones who are together at Mass", I enjoyed the experience of entering fully, quietly into the Mass, without distractions.
So, there we were, on the first weekend of Lent, all of us. "Together at Mass."
And, I felt impatient.
I'd had my daughters at Mass plenty of times, but this weekend it suddenly seemed different. They were acting like ... ummm, like ... little girls. Energetic little girls. They were squirmy, and loud and fussy.
Atticus was oblivious to their antics. It was impossible for me to be oblivious. I was frustrated with all of them, including Atticus. Maybe especially Atticus.
The church was crowded, stuffy and warm. I could barely hear the readings.
But, then, I heard the priest say this:
"... led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, to be tempted by the Devil."
And I was struck, perhaps for the first time, by two realities:
1. We are not alone in the desert.
2. We are being actively tempted.
We are not alone.
We, too, are led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Lent, but, we are not abandoned. And, we are not expected to do this of our own strength.
To be tempted by the devil.
Yes, certainly, I had always thought of Lent as a time of temptation, but I thought of it as "me against myself." I thought that if I had enough resolve, if I were "good enough," it would be easy.
But, suddenly, in that stuffy church, surrounded by fussy children and a husband who didn't want to be there, I realized that I'd been tempted to impatience with the very thing I longed for with my whole being.
"My husband's conversion, and family togetherness at Mass, will mean this?," I'd been thinking. Unpleasantness, distraction, impatience, anger? The desire to be here alone?
I had been tempted away from the good, away even from the desire to be the clear window through which Atticus could see Christ.
Only by God's grace was I able to see the moment for what it was:
Temptation in the desert.
But, I was not alone.
The moment was redeemed by that realization. I reclaimed my longing for my husband's conversion. I knew it would mean giving up "entering fully into the Mass alone," but it would also mean gaining a new way of entering fully into the Mass: as a family. A loud, messy, imperfect, distracted, and sometimes-frustrated family.
I knew then that many more temptations would pop up on this rocky road of my continuing conversion. I knew that there were forces at work actively trying to discourage me from praying for my husband's reception into the Church (which did not come until two years later.) I knew that these things would be, (and would feel) stronger during times of fasting, when I was hungry -- both literally and spiritually -- and vulnerable.
Lent can still be hard.
But, I know I'm not alone.
And that has made all the difference.
(This post also appears at the Catholic Exchange blog.)