US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Don't sit on the edge of the pool. Plunge into Lent

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By guest blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart, director of Tomorrow's Present and an author and speaker on youth leadership. She was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. For more on her story, see "The dying wish of a youth ministry pioneer."

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.

I love swimming. I was on my college swim team, coached a team in the 1980’s, and have continued to swim several miles a week for most of my adult life.

Now that I have cancer, I only do a third of a mile at a time, and I’m exhausted when I finish. In fact, when I come home after a swim, I often take a nap. Swimming is the only exercise I get these days, so I’m told it’s important to continue as long as I can manage.

So what do I do when I get to the pool?

I hesitate.

I don’t dive in. I don’t jump in. I sit for a moment. I say to myself, “Ooh. That water’s cold.” I hesitate because I know what’s coming… the shock of that cold is going to make me shiver for at least two laps.

Do I go back to the locker room and get dressed? Of course not! I go right in, get jolted by the cold, think, “AAUUGGHHH!” and start swimming as fast as I can. After two laps, I start to feel OK. One more lap, and I feel great. I sometimes wonder, “Why did I hesitate? That wasn’t so bad! I’m warmed up now, and I’m moving along just fine!”

I talk with other people about swimming. They are often amazed anyone can swim for a mile. Not only does it require stamina, but it’s fairly boring.  You are completely alone with your thoughts; nothing to see or smell or hear except… water.

They enjoy the beach or poolside, they like sitting around on a hot day in a swim suit, and they like dangling their legs or walking alongside the waves, but they willingly admit… they don’t actually swim.

Sometimes I think Lent is like that.

Some years I look forward to the ashes, I kick around ideas on what I might “give up,” and I even wear purple on Fridays. I make a point of reading one of those daily reflection books, and I pray on the Sunday readings before Mass. But it’s not washing over me in any dramatic way. I’m just dangling my legs in, gently absorbing the scenery.

Other years, when I know there might be a major transformation around the corner, I hesitate when Lent approaches. I know I’m ripe for some major internal work. Maybe I have to forgive someone for doing something that seemed to ruin my life. Maybe I have to let go of something (or someone) being taken away. Whatever it is, I know it’s time for me to dive in… and I know it’s not going to be pleasant. At least not at first. It’s going to shock my system. But the time for standing on the shore is over. I need to plunge in. I need the waves to knock me silly. I need to stroke, stroke, stroke until I start to feel right again… because it’s been a long time since I exercised my soul.

This might be one of those turning-point Lents for me; if the doctors are right, it will be my last Lent. I’m hesitant again.

I think it’s OK to hesitate. It means we don’t take the decision lightly. It means we’re not afraid to feel truly alone with our thoughts – and prayers. It means we’re willing to go through that initial pain to see what God has in store for us in the end.