As I posted yesterday, the first secret is that it is not all about you, but is all about God. Stop thinking about yourself and ask for the grace to be occupied heart and mind with God. If we are occupied with ourselves during the season of Lent then we have entirely missed the point.
Let’s get straight into the second secret! It is this. You are not as strong as you think you are.
In fact there is no strength in you at all, and the more you think you can rely on your own strength of will to manifest the Christian life the further away from Christ you really are. The spiritual life in Christ must begin and end with grace and can only be experienced as the continuing gift of grace.
We deceive ourselves when we think that growth in the Christian life is merely a matter of the exercise of the unaided human will. Having failed to live the Christian life with any great success when we have tried to do so on our own in the past what possible justification can we have to believe that now, as Lent approaches, we will suddenly be able to undertake all that we would wish by trying even harder.
Indeed the very hope that we might be able to make it all OK by our own effort is a harmful and dangerous error that will prevent us from making any progress at all. It is essentially a belief that we can save ourselves and that all we need to do is make a bit more effort. Addicted to sin and self-satisfaction we become like the heroin addict who insists that he can kick the habit whenever he chooses. But we know it is not true, our own experience reminds us that it is not true. Why would it be any different as this Lent begins? If we succeed in keeping the fasting rules then we will have done so without God and without grace and so without any purpose, doing no more than someone who has adopted a vegan diet to lose some weight over the same period. And when we fail we will despair at how terrible and shameful we are, and will promise God all over again that next time we will try harder.
No, the secret to success in this season of Lent is to admit to ourselves and to confess before God that we have no strength at all to even begin to live as we should. This is, after all, the eternal problem which man faces since Adam. There is no hope or possibility of us saving ourselves by own own actions.
Our prayer must be – Lord, there is no strength in me to do your will. I cannot even find it within myself to desire properly that which would save me and I cannot turn myself from sin and self-righteousness. Only you can give me that grace to even begin to desire you more. At the beginning of this season give me all that I need to do your will, to discover your presence in my heart, and to abandon all hope that by the exercise of my unaided will I can ever do that which is right.
If we keep reminding ourselves that there is no good thing in us apart from God, and as St Paul teaches..
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
Then we will not make the mistake of trusting in ourselves but will recognise that there is no strength in us at all unless we earnestly and humbly ask God for even the strength to begin. As St Paul says elsewhere…
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
But it is only the presence of Christ, the grace of Christ, the life of Christ which so strengthens us and will strengthen us now as Lent begins if we abandon all hope in our own power to do God’s will ourselves.