“It’s not a successful Lent if you don’t fail.” So said my late friend and mentor, Father Dan Munn.
By that measure, Lent 2011 is off to a good start.
Now last year was one for the record books. In my mind, we began on a sour note. Despite heroic intentions -- on day one, no less -- I overslept, encountered a broken appliance, and growled at the kids. That was just the warm-up. Three days later Kolbe broke both his arms. Yes, two ulnas and a radius barely 96 hours into the season of penance.
This Lent didn’t begin in such a dramatic fashion. Kolbe thoughtfully broke his arm in early February. With Easter being late this year, it was fully healed and out the cast well before the close of Ordinary Time.
Still I find myself facing that unrealistic expectation that says come Ash Wednesday, I will somehow be instantly different, instantly better. Early on I run slam against my own willfulness, my own “I want what I want and I want it now!” In short, I fail.
To be sure, we have had our share of stresses this week. Many of these probably don’t faze other people nearly as they do me. The science fair brought great excitement (and a tie for second place!), but it required converting the dining room into an obstacle course. The dining room table took over the living room. Meanwhile, our stalled bathroom project remains stalled. The huge box holding the vanity is in the family room. Three boxes of blinds are stashed in a corner. A third box holding a new printer is stuffed behind another piece of furniture.
All this -- and a few unmentioned trials of an entirely different nature -- leaves me off-kilter.
A few years ago I was praying with friends and talking about deep peace and how to find it. Chuck shared an award-winning cartoon that appeared in American newspapers just as World War II was ending. A small bird sat holding fast to a slim branch as Niagara Falls roared in the background. The lesson was simple: Being at peace is not dependent on the circumstances. Cling to that slim branch no matter the surrounding turmoil.
Of course a part of me – a big part of me – considered that image and immediately thought, “Fly away, bird. Fly away!”
Sometimes we can’t fly away. In those times, I need to focus less on the crashing torrent -- the noise, the spray, the tumult -- and more on the stability of the branch. For me that means prayer and sacramental grace. It means kind words chosen over hasty, harsh ones. It means a combination of planning and flexibility. It means putting people above things.
“It is well to deny ourselves that which is permitted, in order to avoid more easily that which is not.”
So much wisdom packed into one succinct line.
Michelle shares that some of her kids complain that Lent is too hard. She writes, "It is hard. But not too hard. We must practice. Now. When it is easier."
Head over to Mrs. Henderson's blog to read some odd things people have given up for Lent. My oddest fast? Yelling at my kids between 4:00 and 7:00, the witching hours as they are known to many of us. One afternoon I was chatting with a friend who knew about my No Flying off the Handle Zone. In the middle of our conversation, one of the kids concocted some harebrained scheme -- I think it involved the top of the fridge. As I wrestled with my temper, my friend checked her watch and quipped, "It's only 3:30. Let 'em have it."
Yes, here we are back in Lent, that season of penance, that time when we say No in order to have the strength to say Yes when it really matters. No doubt I will encounter a few more torrents as we move toward Easter. With God's grace, may I hold fast to my branch and stay focused on that which sustains me.