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Patient Progress

The slow growth of Lent can lead to a spiritual springtime

By Sherry Antonetti

My son called from graduate school, somewhat discouraged. As part of his degree program, he works with ninth graders, spending his days trying to convince jaded 13 and 14 year olds to care about literature. He’s new to the field and discovering that the major struggle in teaching is not making a lesson plan, but in motivating the students. He wants to reach them now and see regular progress in the classroom, but he’s not getting the feedback he expects. It’s hard to convey the value of patience to someone so young in his chosen career.

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“Progress is often taking place without our notice,” I said. “Trust the process and keep doing what you do.”

I reminded him that we’d spent a week and a half blanketed with snow.

“The ground is absorbing all this water, feeding the seeds we don’t see,” I continued.

We wouldn’t know if the bulbs planted in the fall survived the winter until spring, and then, we’d be surprised by how many and how beautiful, how wonderful to have these brilliant flowers everywhere, and all when for so long, the ground looked barren.

Spiritual growth comes in a similar, slow, silent way, through the gradual taking in of the word of God, and the grace of the sacraments. We don’t notice ourselves being changed, until one day, we notice that we are not what we were. It is God’s way of telling us that all good growth comes from him.

Lent is that wintertime of our spiritual life, when we drink in deeper the word of God and the grace of the sacraments, so as to be changed into something far more beautiful than we ever imagined. Those 40 days of fasting and praying and almsgiving can feel as if they are merely symbolic, a fading ash on our foreheads, as if we are going through the motions as we have countless Lents before now.

However, as I said to my son, progress is often taking place without our notice. Just as the children he teaches will remember something of what he offers them over the course of the school year, we will benefit in some small or striking way from our accumulated Lenten observances. Trust the process offered to us in this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and delve deeper into the life cycle of the Church. Keep doing what God has called you to do, and the desert that is your soul will bloom.

Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, D.C., with her husband and their ten children.