Ash Wednesday reminds me of the Lenten sacrifices of my childhood. I was pint-sized and pious. At the age of 6 I gave up watching TV for forty days. Hearing Huckleberry Hound cartoons play in a distant room brought exquisite pain. The next year, I was a 7-year-old at the 7 a.m. daily Mass for Lent. Where did all my spiritual discipline go? Now I battle with Fat Tuesday every day of the year. Yet I’m drawn to sacred practices though I doubt my ability to follow through. For example, I have friends who draw spiritual strength from fasting. I listen awestruck, cheeseburger in hand. If I don’t eat something by noon, I doubt I’d live to tell the tale. Yet fasting is on my spiritual bucket list. So I loved the new book, “Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking The Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor” by Jana Riess (Paraclete Press, Nov. 2011, $16.99, 171 pages), a comical memoir of attempting religious rigor. For one year Riess engages in monthlong practices to embrace the divine. Riess begins January by mapping out her project. February is for fasting. March is for mindfulness in small daily chores. April is spent in Lectio Divina, which is discernment through reading and prayer. In May she shuns materialism. June is about contemplative prayer. She tackles the Jewish observation of the Sabbath in July. Gratitude is on the menu for August, while September is spent in Benedictine-style hospitality. October features vegetarianism inspired by St. Francis and his compassionate mindset toward animals. In November, Riess is “praying the hours” at set times throughout the day. December is about “radical generosity.” Riess grew up attending Saturday evening Catholic Mass and Sunday morning Protestant worship. She has been a Christian for 25 years but feels little romance for religion, and in her new book, she wrote, “These days Jesus and I are like old marrieds – sometimes I’m a nag, and sometimes he is emotionally distant. Maybe the extremes I’m contemplating with a year of bizarre faith practices are the spiritual equivalent of greeting Jesus at the door wrapped only in cellophane. I’m trying to pop a little zing in our relationship.” When she begins, she is convinced the 12 months will be an angel cake of a walk. Then she is disappointed to find she is rarely holier than thou. I laughed often at her valiant and self-deprecatory efforts, yet each month did lead her to unexpected inner spaces. To “be still and hear God’s voice” is very difficult in modern life, with its demands, deadlines, and our Pavlovian conditioning to email. Yet turning off the world, even for a little while, offers a spiritual payoff – time with Jesus and surprises in self-awareness. One might even find a way to forgive the unforgivable. Here’s her deal. Connecting with God is in the trying, but for many, the trying can be fraught with frustration. Am I doing this right? Do I have what it takes? Is God talking to me yet? Stillness and simplicity amplify the divine voice, and Riess experiments with different ways to achieve this. Sometimes she succeeds, other times not. What I found refreshing is that “Flunking Sainthood” celebrates vulnerability and surrender, from which all sacred growth springs. Contact Suzette Standring at visit readsuzette.com. She teaches writing workshops nationally based on her award-winning book, “The Art of Column Writing.” She is syndicated with GateHouse News Service.