No Gold Stars On My Lenten Report Card
Published: April 1, 2010
It’s time to fill out your Lenten report card. How did you do this year? Do you get an A, a B—or a big fat F?
I’m afraid I really overdid it as far as Lenten promises go. You see, I vowed to stop doling out unasked-for advice, but that didn’t seem like enough. So I also decided to give up sweets, attend the Stations of the Cross on Fridays, say the rosary every day—and, oh yes, stop complaining.
Now that Easter is almost here, the truth is out. My report card is filled with flaming, red-letter Fs, because, alas, I broke nearly every promise I made.
Oh, but wait, I do have an excuse. You see, in the middle of Lent, my family from Oklahoma came out for a 10-day visit. And with three extra adults in the house, plus two boys—one 14 and one 6—all our routines fell to the wayside.
Instead of sedate evenings spent in our cozy chairs reading books, my husband and I paraded with the relatives to the playground in the evenings. There, my husband led the charge as our nephews battled the neighborhood children with wooden swords. We also drank wine every night, devoured sumptuous feasts and played card games.
Surely, in the midst of such turmoil, I couldn’t be responsible for keeping my Lenten promises, right?
Ah, but I must confess, the relatives didn’t force feed me that white-turtle ice cream, nor did they tie me down and insist I devour big hunks of the tunnel-of-fudge cake. My relatives didn’t lock me in a closet so I couldn’t make the Stations of the Cross three weeks running. And truth be told, no one hid my rosary beads.
As for complaining, well, I had a stunning opportunity to keep my mouth shut the evening my husband accidentally spilled a pot of tea on the kitchen floor, and then knocked over the gravy boat. It was an opportunity that I definitely missed.
Sad, but true: All the Fs on my Lenten report card are my own doing.
Worse yet, it is all so predictable. Every year, I actually look forward to Lent as a way to draw closer to the Lord. Every year I tell myself that this year will be different. This year I will follow Jesus into the desert and keep every promise! This year I will be filled with great joy on Easter Day because I ran the race and stayed the course.
And every Lent, without fail, I never make it to the finish line. In fact, I fall flat on my face when the opening shot rings out.
In an odd sort of way, though, the family visit provided plenty of chances to make small, impromptu sacrifices. When the 6-year-old turned the couch into a trampoline, I just chuckled. When the teenager took a 30-minute shower, I mentally composed a lecture about the cost of electricity, but never delivered it. And when the food ran out, as it did nearly every day, I hightailed it to Publix and filled the cart.
Maybe these everyday, simple sacrifices will serve as a reminder that little acts of love can continue throughout the year. The Lord doesn’t demand great things of us, just constant effort. As St. Paul in Philippians 3:12 reminds us, we must forget the past failures and strain “forward to what lies ahead.”
Falling down is a reminder that we’re dependent on God for the good we do. The failure to keep our commitments beckons us to throw ourselves into the Lord’s arms, over and over. After all, as Jesus tells us, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
For me, that’s the big lesson of Lent, which I’m still learning. It’s a lesson that continues beyond Easter Day—and one that doesn’t show up on any report cards.
Lorraine Murray’s latest books are “Death in the Choir,” her first mystery, and “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey.” Artwork is by Jef Murray. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Readers may e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.