Never Too Late
Lent starts with Ash Wednesday this week, March 5th. That means Easter is April 20th, about as late as it can possibly be. Daylight Savings Time begins on Sunday, and by Holy Week we will be in the heart of spring, flowers and robins and all. And it has me quite unsettled.
You see, Lent was supposed to be a gloom-and-doom season, when I examined my (guilty) conscience and fretted over my (innumerable) sins. As a Catholic child, I was encouraged to give something up each Lent, something I really enjoyed, like TV or Coke. So skipping the ice cream and Pop Tarts for six weeks just added to the general misery.
My sister Maureen was in the cafeteria at Epiphany School in September of her first grade year. The cafeteria ladies were brutal—no recess until everything on your tray was eaten. As her classmates finished and went outside, poor little Mo remained, glumly contemplating the slimy stewed prunes on her plate. As the time ticked by, she couldn’t swallow a spoonful . Finally, inspiration struck. When the cafeteria worker commented on her uneaten prunes, Mo smiled and said, “Oh I’d LOVE to eat my prunes, but I can’t. You see, I’ve given them up for Lent!” When Mrs. Lunch Lady stopped laughing, she allowed Mo to leave her prunes and go out to play.
When I grew older, I stopped giving up (it was kind of absurd; I’d give up desserts, honestly, just to lose five pounds), and started giving more more more…more volunteering, more praying, more general good deeds. And that was better, but I still had the nagging feeling that my positive actions were kind of selfish at root (“Look at me, God! I’m really super duper, aren’t I?”)
So I settled into a mood of mild depression, as I felt befit the 40 days. The nasty winter weather helped my blues along, with bitter cold and early darkness. But this year! How will I be able to stay “down”? The elusive sun will be shining again, and all around me will be signs of new life. Wait—that’s not supposed to happen til Easter at the earliest! Who ever heard of a Happy Lent?
God never meant for us to spend Lent in a funk. Maybe it would be better passed with a sense of peace and hope and, yes, even joy. After all, to dwell only on the sadness of Jesus’ death, to beat ourselves up over our faults and scramble madly to win God’s favor-- is to miss the whole point. The point is Christ’s amazing life and His resurrection promise. The point is that God loves us, just as we are, and we can grow to be our best selves because of that grace-filled love.
I believe we can relax about the Ben and Jerry’s and the Tote Board of Super Duper Deeds.
I believe we can welcome a late Lent this year, and enjoy every beautiful day of it.