As Lent drew near, I began making plans to start off the season on a good note. First, I would clean the house to have an orderly space to pray and work in. Then we’d attend a Fat Tuesday pancake dinner at a local Episcopalian church, in an effort to be ecumenical and to enjoy tasty food. I’d spend Ash Wednesday in prayer and attend Mass, and finish off the week with Stations of the Cross at my parish.
Lent did not begin as I had expected.
For the first several days leading up to Lent, I found myself sequestered to the couch or my bed. As much as I wanted to grow healthy in time for my planned Lenten activities, I could not seem to get better for several days. I shook my head, thinking about how ironic this all was. I had good activities planned, but God seemed to have other ideas. I guess this will be the Lent of the Unexpected, I thought.
Sure enough, Lent has continued to fit this theme. From car problems that resulted in my husband being stuck out of state to dealing with pregnancy sickness and a toddler who has spurts of being extra-needy, life continues to take unpredictable twists and turns each day. I’ve always liked being in control, but I’ve been starting to see that this Lent, God is asking me to relinquish some control and focus on how I deal with unexpected events.
Recently, during our daily Scripture reading, my husband and I read the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand in Matthew’s Gospel. I’ve heard this story countless times, and always focus on the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. However, on this occasion, I found myself pondering what took place in the few verses preceding the Feeding of the Five Thousand.
These verses recount that after the death of John the Baptist, the disciples buried John’s body and informed Jesus. Then it says that Jesus “withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself” (Mt 14:13). Perhaps Jesus wanted time alone to pray and grieve. This desire would be perfectly understandable! However, verse 13 continues to explain that once Jesus left, “The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.”
I relate to this image as I think about all of the times when I hide in the corner of the kitchen just to get a moment of peace and quiet — and a few minutes later, my toddler is rattling the baby gate wildly, trying to follow me. I try not to get frustrated, but I only occasionally succeed in this mission. Yet what does Jesus do in his situation? “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick” (Mt 14:14). Did Jesus get mad or visibly irritated when he saw that, when he was getting in some “alone time,” a large amount of people was waiting for him? No. Instead, he was full of compassion and love as he dealt with their physical and spiritual needs.
Even though this passage of Scripture is not actually about Lent, I believe that this story is what I need to cling to as I continue my Lenten journey. Instead of growing upset when my plans are frustrated, I could be more like Jesus and peacefully take whatever situation is set before me. Instead of becoming short-tempered when I want to be alone and the toddler needs me, I could be more like Jesus and seek to act out of heartfelt care and concern as I see to my son’s needs.
We still have several weeks of Lent to go, and I’m sure unexpected events will continue to spring up. I’m guessing that there are other people who will experience this, too!
In these situations, will we fight to hold onto our plans and desires — or will we try to imitate Jesus in his patient, compassionate love?
Copyright 2018 AnneMarie Miller