These words strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere, especially when uttered on the very early end of a long car ride by a squirrely child. Luckily for us, they are normally quoted from the movie, The Incredibles as a joke, which earns the faux angry reply from my husband, “We’ll get there when we get there!” Actually, we really are lucky. My husband’s family lives 9 hours away (of pure drive time), and our son does very well in the car. Better, sometimes than his mom. What holds him on the way down is the thought that if he can just hang in there long enough, our car will eventually pull into the gravel driveway and Grandma and her kitties will be waiting. I have been shocked as we pull into a rest stop somewhere in the vast expanse of Wisconsin, to see him jump excitedly into his car seat, ready to go-see-Grandma!!
How’s Lent going for you? Around this time perhaps you are questioning if you fast was too harsh or your prayer routine too regimented. Lent can sometimes feel like a 9 hour car ride, especially when it is paired up with a seemingly endless winter. Are we there yet?
I think the key to persevering in Lent is remembering what’s on the end of it. In the past I have fallen into the trap of believing that Lent is a time to feel sad all the time, and to suck it up and suffer. Then sometime on Holy Saturday, we flip the Happy Switch and perk up and eat our jelly beans. That’s not it at all. Yes, we are called to sacrifice during Lent, to pray more and help the poor. But why?
Lent, the desert time, is meant to get us to an event way better than Grandma’s house: Easter. It is through the suffering of our fast and prayer and alms that we arrive closer to Jesus at the end of the journey. Ascetical practices are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. This is what gets some people skeptical about our spirituality of suffering: what good does it do the world that I skip my Snickers at lunch? None. What good does it do for me to skip a Snickers and offer that up with the sufferings of Christ? More than we know.
Just like it is necessary for my van’s tires to make contact with every inch of road between here and Grandma’s in order to arrive there, it is necessary for us to deny ourselves and engage our wills in the things of God in order to get closer to Him. There simply is no other way. And to risk overextending the metaphor, Jesus did say something about the road leading to life being narrow and rough. Those who do not embrace the meaning of Lent, making an effort to draw nearer to Christ, simply will not arrive at their destination on Easter Sunday. This is why the Church can be full to the rafters on that day, but no extra special spiritual fruit is seen from the extra attendance.
One last thing. Lent is a model for our lives. In the Hail Holy Queen prayer, we call our lives on earth a “valley of tears”. While you hopefully don’t spend every day bawling your eyes out, I would guess that you don’t have to look further than your parish bulletin, your inbox or the evening news to know that this world is one of great suffering. God uses these real desert experiences of our lives to bring us closer to him as well. And, like Lent, there is no shortcut around them. Every illicit detour we take to try and avoid suffering gets us either lost or stuck in the ditch. The only way around suffering is through it.
So, take heart on these long Lenten days. The sun will shine again, the snow will eventually melt, and we will eventually “get there.” Let’s embrace the time we have left, waiting in joy for Christ’s Resurrection Day, both at Easter and at the end of time.
Copyright 2010 Libby DuPont