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Learning to Say Help

BabyCrying
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My toddler son has no problem asking for help. He wants up in a seat, “Help!” He is having a problem manipulating an IPad, “Help!” He wants a snack, “Help!” Today, he sang a song entirely consisting of the word, “Help!”

This kind of radical openness to one’s neediness, one’s incompleteness, one’s dependency upon God is at the heart of the Gospel. Christianity is learning to say thank you, to see the entirety of our lives as gifts.

Perhaps, this language of “Help” might actually enable us to understand something about Lent too. Lent is not about success. It is not about becoming the best version of ourselves. It is not developing self-control that will enable us to be successful in other areas of life. Rather, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is the way that we Christians give up on the project of self-creation, self-control, self-improvement. It’s the way that we cry out to God through embodied practice that we need help.

We fast as a way of recognizing the original gift of the created order; we live in a world that is not ours to begin with. We pray as a way of consecrating every aspect of our day to God, to see all as gift. We give alms to recognize the original economy of gift that is creation, that nothing we have received is ours, but is to be given to God.

In all these ways, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is not ultimately about self-control. It is not learning skills that will enable us to succeed in other areas of life. Instead, these are practices that enable us to move beyond self-control, self-creation, self-improvement to the dying of ourselves unto new life.

Leave it to a toddler to teach us to offer the simplest of prayers to God during Lent, “Help!”

Tim O'Malley
Timothy P. O’Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, associate professional specialist in the department of theology at the University of Notre Dame, and founding editor for Church Life.