My Biggest Lent Fails and How I Learned Mortification Without Suffering (Almost)

by | Feb 19, 2013 | February, Lent, Liturgical Living, March, Parenting, Pregnancy and Birthstories | 50 comments

I have already posted about our family’s Lent undertakings.  And what I’m doing this year.  But not everything I have tried to do (or not do) for Lent has worked.  Today, you get to hear about what I don’t do during Lent, what I avoid not doing during Lent, things I tried not doing but couldn’t, and how I find mortification without suffering except in relation to Dr. Pepper.  All clear?  No?  Well, let’s just get on with it.


The thing I like about Lent is that it is a fixed time period in which to try adding or subtracting something from my life.  After six weeks I’ll know with a pretty good degree of certainty whether my life is better for having added or removed something.  

Many things, like daily Mass, and the Rosary, and not snacking, have felt beneficial enough that I mostly keep them up throughout the year.  Other things, like no radio or TV, limiting spending to bare necessities, and avoiding sweets, have felt useful in the short term, but not practical for all year.  So, good for every Lent, but not for every day.

A few things have been failures.  One year, I gave up wearing make-up for Lent.  For me, it ended up being something I NEVER wanted to do again.  People seemed much less forgiving of me having all these kids (although I think I only had three at the time) when I didn’t appear pulled together.  Having a bit of make-up on seems to prove to people that it’s okay, I can handle them.  For me, not “neglecting my appearance” (Matthew 6:16) has turned out to be an important part of my apostolate of Appearing In Public With Many Children.  But I digress . . . 

She looks perfect either way.
Don’t worry, it’s a BABY eyelash curler.

I learned the hard way not to try to do food-related mortifications when I’m pregnant.  I’ve been pretty barfy with the last couple and I felt like a huge failure when the only things I could imagine eating were on my banned list.  Then my spiritual director told me I needed to forget the foodstuff and get more creative in my active mortifications and embrace more joyfully my passive mortifications.  Like the barfing.  And my other children.  So that’s what I do.

Some things that we do give up now took a few years of false starts to gain traction.  TV was definitely one of those things. The first time I tried it was the second winter we lived in Chicago.  I had kids aged 3, 2, and 2 months and a very tiny house.  And, for me, it just wasn’t the time to give it up.  I needed the kids to be able to stop making messes and watch a show so I could make dinner.  

I wanted to be able to stare at something other than the wall while I sat in my glider and nursed so that the baby would sleep while the other kids were napping.

Here’s the TV I wanted to look at, 
along with a view of basically our entire living space.  

The house was really cute, but really small.  The floors were very creaky, and the stairs were very, very creaky, and the bedrooms were right over the kitchen, and the only bathroom was between the two bedrooms where the kids were sleeping.  And if I tried to cook, or do dishes, or talk on the phone, or go to the bathroom, or walk on the floor, everyone would wake up.  

I am aware of the fact that whoever lived in that house on the south side of Chicago in 1957 was probably raising 11 kids in it, and ironing sheets and underwear, and fixing cocktails for the neighbors.  I was doing none of those things.  I was just bored and wanted to watch TV.  I didn’t know how to approach fasting and mortification in a positive way.  So I gave up giving it up. 

Stop judging me, adorably injured Betty.

But it still felt like something I wanted to be able to give up.  So I kept trying Lent after Lent, until it finally took.  Now, it’s a completely different story.  My current little kids don’t watch TV because they have plenty of brothers and sisters to play with and because having a TV on would be disruptive to my big kids finishing schoolwork or practicing piano or reading or doing a craft or blinking.  So we just don’t usually turn it on anyway.

And I don’t need it now either.  For one, I have big kids around who aren’t napping and watching Project Runway or Downton Abbey is not currently part of our homeschool curriculum.  And I have their company, so I don’t feel isolated like I did when I was in the all-little-ones phase.  We live in a bigger, and not at all creaky house.  And I discovered baby slings and industrial fans which have made a real lifestyle difference for me.  I am no longer a prisoner of naptime.  And now that I don’t usually watch TV in the evening, I have time to write!

But the main difference in my success has been how I approach Lent.  I used to view Lent as a time of suffering, a time to grudgingly give something up until Easter came and I would go right back to all my old ways.  But now I see it as a gift.  As a time when, if I will allow it, God will help remove some of the obstacles I keep piling up between us.

And it doesn’t even have to hurt much, as long as I do it right. I have found that, almost always, when I start by asking God to remove my desire for the thing I want to give up, He does.  And He usually replaces my desire for the lesser thing, with a desire for something better.  So I come out of Lent not with the petty self-satisfaction of having gutted out six weeks of misery, looking forward to plopping myself down on the couch again . . . but instead — invigorated, and with some new better habits, that I just might be able to hang on to.

The notable exception to this is . . . 

Dr. Pepper 12oz Can - Legacy Wine and Spirits

Dr. Pepper.  I like Dr. Pepper.  A lot.  I drink two cans every day that it’s not Lent.  I give it up every Lent and I hate every second of giving it up and I go right back to it just as soon as possible.  I’ve tried just drinking water to ‘detox’, I’ve tried substituting something healthier (and more natural) like iced tea or fruit juice.  But I hate them all and I always end up back where I started.  

So, humility, I guess?  Or the time hasn’t been right yet?  Or God just also likes Dr. Pepper and why would I ever give it up?  No, probably not that one.  

But, anyway, I head into this Lent excited for a quieter and simpler life, and looking forward to seeing what I will be able to accomplish without all my usual distractions, and already mourning the good Doctor.  But somehow, I shall soldier on.  How about you?


  1. Hannah

    I am in the "All Little Kids" phase so giving up tv is not practical! That little bit in the morning allows me to get dressed and have a few minutes to collect myself before the day begins. For me I give up Diet Coke every Lent and go back to it afterward. I always think, "I am giving it up for good" or "After Lent I will not drink it everyday only on special occasions" but I always go back to it. It is nice to know I am not the only mom who tries to do things and healthy and winds up drinking an unhealthy, caffeinated, fizzy beverage.

  2. Erin Pascal

    Thank you for sharing this Kendra! I too have my own share of "Lent fails." Although I am embarrassed to God about my failures, I am grateful that He still gives me another Lent to try once more. This Lenten season, I resolve to really carry out my undertakings until the end–and even sustain it for the rest of the year. So help me God.

  3. Monica @ Equipping Catholic Families

    Wow, Kendra…another awesome post. After all these Lents…it never occurred to me to ask Him to replace my desire for the lesser thing with something better. I thought it was supposed to be painful, but your perspective makes so much more sense! I think I have too many Dr. Peppers in my life (namely, Coke Zero and chocolate and cheezies!)…but I think I'm going to get through this Lent a little less-grudgingly. =)

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thanks Monica. All this work you're doing for the blog carnival sure counts for Lent. It's been fun looking around at new blogs.

  4. Megan Eccles

    Well, I think I have fallen in love you. Thank you for sharing in utter honesty the goods and the bads. Have you ever thought of switching to water kefir? You get the sweet bubbly of soda but with probiotic benefits. You could even mix it with prune juice to get that Doctor Pepper taste 😛

  5. Nanacamille

    I an still worried that Child Protective Services is going to come after me for doing that to Betty's arm. Actually it's her elbow called "nursemaid's elbow". It seems to happen in small children when the adult takes their hand and they pull away or throw themselves on the ground saying "I don't want to go yet". Nan has never been able to forgive herself.
    I feel the same way about giving up my glass or two of sparking wine at dinner time for Lent. I have joined my husband in giving it up for the last 3 years and I really hate it. It is so relaxing and keeps me off of drugs.
    I spoke with the "Church Lady" at Mary Star of the Sea today about the article welcoming small children and their noises to mass. She said that it came from a parish in No CA and she doesn't know who wrote it. She thinks that every parish in the country should publish a similar letter welcoming parents with their small and often noisy kids to every mass and sitting up front to worship with us. They are the next generation and without them there is no parish of the future.

    • Keeley L.

      Nana, you were in La Jolla when I was! You should say hi some time. Google me, you'll find my office. 🙂

  6. Keeley L.

    I thought Lent was supposed to be a time of sacrifice and I was supposed to "suffer" giving something up or doing something extra. I never though of it like that, either. Thanks, Kendra! But I'm still going to stay off Facebook during the workday. And hopefully, I won't go right back after Lent!!

    • Kendra Tierney

      You inspired me to add staying off of my blog AND facebook during the schoolday. I am certainly more productive without it!

  7. Regina

    I *love* this post! Replace Coca-Cola for Dr. Pepper and we could be soda twins. Thanks for such a refreshing, funny, and real take on Lent. Glad I recently subscribed to you! I've linked to you via my blog, too, so others can find you. Good Lent to you!

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thanks! We'll have to have a virtual soda together, no wait, a REAL soda, but VIRTUALLY together. After Easter!

  8. Justine of SewCountryChick

    I like reading about all that you are doing. You are brave to give up makeup! I have to admit being lazy at lent.I thought about giving up on blogging for about 10 minutes. I usually end up flaking on my promises after about two weeks and then just feel guilty. Could you e mail me and recommend some good Catholic blogs you like? You are an inspiration!

  9. Crystal Berg

    I feel the same way about my Mountain Dew. Give it up every year and go right back to it. Maybe it'll stick this year?

    • Kendra Tierney

      Oooh Mountain Dew, it was my main source of nutrition in college. (And I was an athlete!)

  10. Kim

    I will give up Dr. Pepper when someone pries it out of my dead hands!

    I am in the All Littles-All The Time tunnel and PBS Kids is my sanity. We agreed to cut back on watching TV this Lent … clearly I was insane on that regard. We'll try and get back on the horse tomorrow. I think. 🙂


  11. Cheryl

    Stopping by from the "Keep Love in Lent" link-up…

    I'm a big Dr. Pepper fan too! So I understand. I decided to really limit all carbonated beverages before Lent (as part of a vow to eat better) so limit myself to about one a month. Very had, especially at first. I think it will be worse this summer, when it is my go-to drink to cool down in the humid weather.

    I like reading your reflections on "what worked" and "what didn't work" for Lent. And how sometimes, even though we want to give up something, it may not be practical for our life at that moment (like giving up TV when you have little kids and may just need it for a bit of downtime.) Perhaps that's why those Lenten resolutions sometimes fail — we're asking ourselves to do something that just won't fit in our lifestyle at the time. Not that we should avoid sacrifice or make it easy on ourselves, but that it might just not be practical. A good thing to remember!

    Blessings to you this Lenten season,


  12. Anonymous

    What a great post! Thank you for sharing your journey. I found it very inspiring. Certainly not to dwell on them, but I'm always amazed by how much one can learn from the struggles/challenges of another. God bless you & keep persevering!

  13. Ginger P. Arboleda (

    Hi Kendra! Great post. TV is not a problem for me, but my laptop is. 🙂 Even when I'm eating, the laptop is by my side. I need to learn how to put it away. That's my challenge.

    Love lots,

  14. Katie

    Great post!! We give up TV pretty much every Lent now and I really like it. Like you with Dr Pepper, coffee would be very hard for me to give up . . . . maybe next year!

  15. Chris

    Love your sentiment and your style! Love it….Thrilled to have found your blog recently and to now follow you. And BTW thanks for the com on my Keep Love in Lent post as well!
    So much to say! Your reflection on humility in terms of failing when sacrificing? So so deep. How perfect. I really needed that.(And I, too, am a huge Dr Pepper fan. Huge. Not a 2 can a day fan…but still. I hear you!)
    Thank you for this brilliant nugget of wisdom to start my day and for sharing your witty and intriguing writing style, Kendra!
    God bless!

  16. Tina Santiago-Rodriguez

    Hi Kendra! 🙂

    I love what you said about Lent being a gift — it's something I've realized, too, lately, although many times I walk around as if it's a burden! 🙂 Let's pray for each other during this Lent and beyond! 🙂 Thanks for joining the link-up! God bless always!

  17. noreen

    Hi Kendra, your honesty is much appreciated in your struggles with previous Lents. Especially when your oldest children were little. I think you're right that it does depend on our attachment to an object (i.e. pop, tv) as to whether giving it up sticks or not. Or whether it's a miserable experience or not. I tell my son that it's an act of the will to give something up for love of Jesus. Don't wait until you feel an overwhelming emotion to do so or you'll be waiting a long time. It must be a conscious act that we want to give it up and leave it at the foot of the cross.

    I recently saw a Lenten prayer that I posted over at Community of Catholic Bloggers, that has inspired me this Lent. I found it at Our Sunday Visitor and it convicted me to work on these issues rather than give up pop or sweets.

    A Lenten Prayer

    Fast from judging others; feast on Christ in them.
    Fast from wanting more; feast on being thankful.
    Fast from anger; feast on patience.
    Fast from worry; feast on trust.
    Fast from complaining; feast on enjoyment.
    Fast from negatives; feast on positives.
    Fast from stress; feast on prayer.
    Fast from anger; feast on forgiveness.
    Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
    Fast from fear; feast on truth.
    Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
    Fast from gossip; feast on silence.
    Fast from fighting; feast on peace.

    Gentle God, during this season of fasting and feasting, gift us with your presence
    so we can be a gift to others in carrying out your work.

    Isn't it powerful?

    One comment about the time you gave up makeup. If I did that, I would hear over and over "are you ok? you don't look well. or you look tired." Best for everyone that I wear a little bit of makeup!

    May God bless you and your family during this Lenten Season and may He draw you closer to Him!

    It's nice "to meet" you!

  18. Nancy Ward

    Your writing style is so unique. Fresh and clever, it keeps me interested in even the longest entries. Thanks for letting me discover you through Keep LOVE in LENT.

  19. Janice Trinh

    Wonderful post. It was interesting to see what you've tried in years past and if they worked or not. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one failing at my Lenten sacrifices. But keep it simple, right? And true, timing must be considered too! Love your pics, by the way. They made the post more fun!

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thanks, it's been fun to start this blog and get back into photography again. I'm saving my amazon associates earnings for a new camera. $21.73 down, umm, a lot to go.

  20. Susan Anderson

    Gosh, I love this. It made me laugh because I can so relate! I have a best friend named Kendra. We go way back to day care. I love your humor about giving up make-up. I have thought the same thing, about caring enough about my appearence that I don't ruin it for others considering having more than 2.5 kids. I love the baby eye lash curler. I also like your prayer, asking God to squelch the desire you're trying to give up. Brilliant!

    • Kendra Tierney

      Hey there's not too many of us running around. And as far as I know, she and I are still in the running to become the first St. Kendra ever!

  21. Michelle

    Great post! It's so true how you have to choose mortifications depending on the season of your life(and the ages of your children:). My oldest sons are big fans of Dr. Pepper, too!

  22. Monica McConkey

    Wow…I accidentally did the "no make-up" thing today. I realized about 5 hours into hosting some of my husband's friends…and a 12 year old boy birthday party (yes, at the same time!) I guess I was too busy trying to get the house and food ready. Yikes! Didn't mean to scare anyone!

    • Kendra Tierney

      Hah! I've done that too. That moment when you walk by a mirror and realize why everyone's been asking if you're sick? Been there.

  23. Elisa

    I really like the idea of Lent as a gift, a way to remove obstacles between you and God. An idea that will recharge my Lent. I have no problem giving up TV in the daytime; after I stopped nursing my youngest, I rarely turn it on until the evening news that I sometimes watch while preparing dinner. My TV vice is watching it later at night when everyone else is asleep and I want to download from the day. I don't do it every night, but when I do, it's usually for too long. I will pray that God will help me see this as a time for reflection and growth instead of mindless entertainment.

  24. Michelle @ Liturgical Time

    You made me smile tonight! 🙂 …because I am quite sure that God likes Dr. Pepper very much. You also made me think deeply about Lent as a gift. Thank you for that. Your observations are deep and valid.
    Wishing you a blessed Lent,
    Pax Christi,

  25. melanie jean juenau

    we are suppose to fail every lent. Heroically perfect people aren't Christians. Weak, broken humans who need God to die to save them are Christians.
    Praise God for our failure.
    Praise God it does not depend on us.
    Praise God that it is all about Him.
    His Power.
    His Mercy,Healing.Grace and
    the Power of the Resurection at work in us

  26. Melissa @ Homegrown Catholics

    I love your straightforwardness in your post. It's refreshing as I read all the Link-up posts how similar we moms are in our wanting to share how HUMAN we are. I agree that the adult version of Lent takes years to figure out (for some of us). But when we get it right, it's not painful rather beautiful. Thanks for the reminder.

  27. Kristen Rabideau

    This year I'm in full swing first trimester misery for Lent. So it seems that I have not-voluntarily but effectively given up happiness for Lent. Also as backwards as it seems, I've given up doing lots of great lenten crafts and activities with my kids because I'm too physically drained to keep up with any of it. I suppose that is a sacrifice in it's own way? I love your writing and how real you are. There are just some years Lenten sacrifices work and some they just don't, and that's real life.

  28. Cassie

    I feel lame asking this, but what do you and your husband do together in the evenings if you don’t watch TV? (That sounds even worse now that I’ve typed it out!) My husband and I watch 30-45 minutes of a show together after the kids are in bed and then I get ready for bed myself. I can’t think of much else to do on a week night that we would do together / would feel relaxing.

    • Kendra

      We talk or read or reply to emails, mostly!


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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