Why your Lenten plan won’t save you

Every time Lent rolls around, I know it’s my chance to start over. Whether it’s strengthening my prayer life, stripping my daily routine of clutter and distraction, eradicating a bad habit, or building new good habits, Lent is the time to transform things.

I make a plan. I make intentional decisions that will get me holy.

And then I fail. Whether in some large way or just a small thing, I generally find myself flat on my face at some point during Lent. Sometimes it’s failing at one of my Lenten sacrifices. Other times it’s finding myself sinning in other ways and frustrated that my Lenten plan hasn’t brought me closer to Christ. I look back at all my good intentions and my plans and I wonder what happened.

It’s because each year I forget that it’s not my plans, as intentional as I am, that are going to make me holy.

I can’t make myself holy. I can’t plan my way into heaven. No matter how good my plans, no matter how upright my intentions, I am not going to get myself to heaven.

God makes me holy.

We do have a part to play, of course. God doesn’t make us holy without our cooperation. So we need to make a plan. We need to strive for an ordered life. We need to embrace mortification so that we can grow in virtue and have the strength when temptation comes. All the things I have planned to work on during Lent are good.

But don’t forget that it’s His grace that transforms you. I can make the best plans or make the hardest sacrifices, but that isn’t going to get me to heaven. My cooperation with His grace will.

I’m a co-worker in this grand adventure, and I’m going to fail at that a lot. If you’ve already failed at Lent, you’re not alone. But the important thing is to pick up the pieces and keep walking forward. Perhaps the lesson you needed to learn this Lent was humility.

Make a plan for Lent. Stretch yourself in your choice of sacrifice and be intentional in your prayer. He’s not going to bring you closer to Him if you don’t want it or if you don’t do your part. But then turn your plan over to Him and ask for His help. Ultimately, this season is not about accomplishing your Lenten to-do list.

It’s not about being transformed by your plan, but being transformed by Him. It might be that your Lent looks different on Holy Thursday than you had planned on Ash Wednesday. The question shouldn’t be, “How well did my plan work out?” but, “Am I closer to Him?”

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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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