If you think I’m bad with God, imagine me without him. – Evelyn Waugh
FOR THE BRAVE ONLY: MY LENTEN MANIFESTO
The durges of the day hung in my head.
These 40 days of Lent, O Lord, with you we fast and pray, teach us to discipline our wills and follow Lord, your way.
Whatever. How many more times will I have to listen to that dreadful thing? Or there’s this cheerful Catholic ditty. NOT.
We rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do. We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew.
I mean, SERIOUSLY? I didn’t know if I could do 40– scratch that– 46 days of Lent. The 4o thing is actually a lie. Do the math.
A harmless and uninformed CVS clerk quizzed me about the “dirt” on my forehead last year on Ash Wednesday. She’d never heard of Lent and I’m not sure I did a great job encouraging her curiosity with my arm full of bandaids, hairspray, Excedrin and fairly inarticulate babbling about Catholicism while I dug for my Visa with the durges still playing in my head.
As Lent approaches this year, I find myself recalling this morning a year ago and that moment with the CVS clerk. I am in bed with the flu. There’s nothing like a great battle to keep a glass of sprite down to clear one’s mind of all that doesn’t really matter.
Time for some soul searching. Stay with me. I’ll eventually make a point?
So busy have I been, it occurs to me, so wrapped up in my carpool runs and basketball games that when my good friend called a couple weeks ago asking me to take her downtown to IU Methodist for a doctor’s appointment—I asked her to keep looking.
This is a dear friend who has suffered so much over the last two decades from illness that it has at times made me wonder why God is so cruel. I simply cannot do her history justice here in a few words. So that one can grasp the gravity– we’re talking multiple bone marrow transplants, brain surgery, skin cancer and that’s just for starters. She’s gracefully endured emotional and physical suffering that is staggering by anyone’s estimate. She’s grateful for every blessing—a holy woman of God.
Even after she said, “It’s okay, Shelly, you were just my first call, but I need to tell you something soon” it didn’t faze me. I was wrapped up in myself. Face of Christ? Not so much.
Good and gracious God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Why on earth didn’t I just say yes?
As a Catholic Christian, I know I need my savior. I go to mass because I realize that I am a sinner. There’s no self-hatred in that. It’s just truth. If we understand what it means to believe in the incarnation, then we know we are in need of redemption.
Purification and enlightenment. That’s what Lent is intended to be about. Absolutely, I should make more loving, less selfish choices with those I adore (see above). BUT ITS MORE THAN THAT. What can I do to help me grow closer to Jesus, to be more like him in my life? What is in my life that can’t remain if I truly desire an intimate relationship with Christ?
God is love. That’s all he’s got in his bag, says one of my favorite theologians, Bishop Robert Barron. He points out that God doesn’t only love those who love him back. His sun rises and sets for the just and the unjust. When we love, we participate in the holiness of God. Simple as that.
Love is not a sentimental feeling. It’s an act of the will. True love is to will the good of the other, to break out of the deep pit of my own self-regard. If you “love” hoping to get something in return, that is not love at all. Love those who are not going to return the favor. If you love those who are not likely to love you in return, then you have tested the integrity of your love.
Let me explain my Lenten thoughts another way. Here is some pain shared by some of the people in my life in recent days. For each person below who spoke to me of their frustration and hurt, the folks they were discussing set off their personal “JAS”.
I really hate myself sometimes.
The school didn’t welcome my son.
The coach lacks integrity.
His employer dismissed him without cause after decades of loyal service.
I’ve been bullied and disrespected but no one even cares.
My family rejected me.
My friends left me out.
Our grown children take advantage of us.
My husband says cruel things.
I am unappreciated.
So, it’s all about prayer, fasting and almsgiving at this time of the year, right? Priests are really reliable when it comes to those three words during Lent. The goal there is purification and redemption, acts designed to make us holy as God is holy.
In other words…our little sun? We need to make it shine on the people who slather us in awesome sauce AND those who make us want to activate our Jackass Alert System. (The fact that I have invented this acronym should tell you a lot about the work I still have to do.) Our call is so completely counter cultural.
Lent is a good time to be intentional in our quest for holiness. The path of love is not the path of indirect self-interest. My job for 40 days (and beyond) is to make my sun shine on the good and bad alike. If I am going to be like God, my bag needs to be full of love.
Praying for my enemies and all who set off my internal JAS, fasting from things that pull me away from God (social media?), giving my time and resources to bring light to others—all of these are better choices for me than giving up diet coke for lent this year.
If the spirit of God dwells in me, reminds Bishop Barron, then my mind, body, sexuality, friendship, private life, public life, entertainment should be turned toward love. What’s love? Willing the good of the other.
Imagine what our Facebook and Twitter feeds, our television news programs, our families would look like if all of us who profess to be Christians tried this for the next 40 days?
Instead of hiding it, I place my sinfulness this lent before God. It’s all yours, Jesus. Nothing will I leave out. My dream is to be holy. Draw me closer, Lord.
Sometimes we have the dream but we are not ourselves ready for the dream. We have to grow to meet it. –Louis L’Amour
P.S. Here’s a link to a nice lenten prep video from a priest who makes me smile. I hope you enjoy it!