Stewardship: Focus on the “Why” and Not the “What”

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus gives us direction on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corner so others may see them…but when you pray, go to your inner room…and pray to your Father in secret. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…but when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…but when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so your almsgiving may be secret.”

Many of us “give up” certain things (i.e. chocolate, beer) and/or “do something special” during Lent. Many parishes also provide extra community faith activities and events as well during this time of year. Whatever it is that you are giving up or doing special, remember to focus on the “why” you are doing it versus the “what” you are doing. Too many times in our own individual faith journey and in our parish community we get caught up in the “what” (the activity) and we forget about the “why” (our relationship with God). If the “what” doesn’t lead us to God, then we should reconsider the “why” we are doing it. If the “what” is more important than the “why”, maybe we are the hypocrites that Jesus is referring to.

Many times the planning, organizing and busyness of the “what” can lead to anxiety, frustration and anger that may actually move us away from God, not closer to Him. This is especially true at the parish community level. The pressure to maintain parish schedules may in some cases, provide more opportunity to sin rather than repent; the exact opposite reason why we are doing the “what” in the first place.

Individually, many times when a person forgets their Lenten observance and accidentally eats that candy bar that we were going to give up, they “throw in the towel” and figure that they “blew it” and decide not to continue with the Lenten observance they committed to. When we do this, we are too focused on the “what” and not on the “why.” The devil will try anything he can to derail us from our path to holiness, especially during our holiest season of the liturgical year. The devil wants us to become obsessed with the “what” so that when we fail, we will forget the “why.”

Remember, God calls us to be obedient and faithful, not perfect. When we offer our “mistake” to God, it shows Him that we want to be with Him, we need Him, we are dependent on Him, we crave His love, mercy and forgiveness – this is the “why” of Lent.

Focusing on the “why” and not the “what” is something that should do beyond the 40 days of Lent. It should also apply to the other 325 days of the year as well. Lent is time to build our spiritual muscles; to be persistent and make gradual changes that will grow into long term habits. Lent is our time to prune our vices and grow in virtues.

What we put in our mind, heart and soul determines our actions. But, it’s not all about the things that we do on the outside, it’s what is on the inside that matters most. Of all the gifts that God has given us, the one He wants the most is our heart. Pray for the wisdom and fortitude to focus on the “why” and not the “what” on your path to holiness.