Persevere, and Avoid Irritability!

We are quickly approaching the middle of Lent! Our refrigerators have been depleted of non-fasting foods that happened to be there and are restocked with simple but satisfying foods. Our palette, having gone a few weeks without rich fats and proteins, is becoming more sensitive and easy to satisfy. Our stomachs, having at first rebelled against the fast, are now humbled and happy to have just about anything. Raw carrots are surprisingly sweet, and a plain piece of bread has a great variety of favors!

Yet our adversary, the devil, seeing our honorable efforts and the calming of the passions that is blossoming within us, has a new phase of temptation in store. Our humbled and wearied flesh is not so easily moved by his impulsive and carnal temptations any more, so he falls back on a simple, but effective weapon: irritability.

The Church teaches us clearly that when we restrain ourselves for the sake of virtue, which is to deprive ourselves of worldly things in exchange for heavenly things, we are tempted almost immediately by irritability. We are not used to being deprived of the things we desire, and the spiritual energy that was devoted to that which we’ve given up backs up within us, causing a state of spiritual imbalance. The self-restraint is a good thing! But we must redirect the surplus of spiritual energy, or the imbalance will burst out in ways such as irritability, anxiety, frustration, or simply accepting back what we’ve given up. So how do we redirect this energy? Prayer and prayerfulness.

We are taught that fasting is always accompanied by prayer. This means corporate worship, personal prayer, and a general sense of increased prayerfulness: that is, awareness of divine things, watchfulness, and a longing for God. When we feel tempted or pulled towards irritability during a fast, for no apparent reason or for typical “Lenten” reasons (car breaks down, irritable neighbor, increased demands, plans interrupted, that sense of “when it rains it pours,” etc.), we must consciously take hold of that energy going the wrong direction (towards anger, escape, despair, etc.) and turn it towards prayer and prayerfulness. In the moment of temptation, take a deep breath, acknowledge inwardly that these things are attacks against the spiritual focus you have committed yourself to, accept what is as God’s providence in your life at that moment, and pray inwardly, “Lord have mercy . . . Lord, I trust You will reward me for my feeble perseverance . . . Lord, my life is so soft and easy most of the time, yet I am thankless. Glory to You for all things!”

In this way our fasting takes life spiritually. It is transformed from a dead list of rules to which we submit into a way of life, a new existence, a spiritual experience, a journey by which we, with the grace of God, will increase in faith, depth, and wisdom. Christ endured crucifixion for our sake. May we endure for His sake also.

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