I love Lent.
Lent to me is chock-full of everything that makes me love the faith. Beginning with smoke and ashes and ending with Resurrection, Lent offers a fresh start, a gentle propulsion to do hard things, a few tangible reminders that this life is not all there is.
Above all, Lent offers hope.
But Lent is never easy. And the first day of Lent is almost invariably awful.
Lent 2010 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.
Lent 2011 didn’t begin in such a dramatic fashion. Kolbe thoughtfully broke his arm in early February. With Easter being late that year, it was fully healed and out the cast well before the close of Ordinary Time.
And now we begin Lent 2013. Tim's been dog-sitting for our friends across the street. He had a basketball tournament yesterday, so I walked the dogs one last time. I swept up one mess and cleaned up a second, yuckier mess. Dave closed the door. A job well done. Or so I thought.
We expected to see the neighbor's car turn up sometime Tuesday evening, but never did. This morning, I hustled Tim out of bed to walk the dogs once more. Tim was unusually quiet upon his return. With a little prodding, he finally admitted the unfortunate truth: The dogs were gone.
Panicking, I ran across the street to see if they had locked themselves in a closet or something. No dogs, in or out of closets, but I did see clear evidence that the family had returned late and left the house early this morning.
But where were the dogs?
I tracked down the phone number for the dog owner's mother (that would be the dogs' grandmother, I guess). I reached the dogs' aunt, spilled out the whole crazy story, and learned the happy news that the dogs were safe in her custody.
My heart rate is now going down, and I have freed Saint Francis to pray for other animal calamities elsewhere.
And what has this to do with Lent?
A few years ago I wrote this about Lent: I find myself facing that unrealistic expectation that 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.
I run up against broken arms and missing dogs and flairing tempers and bad attitudes. I really want grace and peace and holiness, really, I do. All the daily aggravations of life seem to conspire to ruin my Lent. In fact, they're the very reason I need Lent. I need a fresh start, a gentle propulsion to do hard things, a few tangible reminders that this life is not all there is.
And if it gets off to a rocky start, persevere.
The Internet abounds with great ideas for this season. Here are a few that I'm checking out: