A few years ago, my two oldest daughters decided to decorate the house for Lent. My oldest, Maria, set about drawing some typical Lenten pictures of the Passion of Christ — the scourging at the pillar, the carrying of the cross, and the crucifixion. However, when my second daughter, Loretta, showed me what she had drawn, I was a little puzzled. I saw the tomb with the stone and, in front, a bearded man grinning broadly, with his hands up, as if in celebration. I thought maybe she had drawn the resurrection scene a little early, but when I asked her, she shook her head.
“No,” she answered. “That’s the soldier guarding the tomb.”
Appropriately, she had written at the top: “Happy Lent!”
Well, at least that explained the gray helmet she had drawn on his head.
At first I thought that this episode showed how hard it was for children to understand Lent, but upon further consideration, I’ve decided it shows how little we adults understand Lent. Most of us think of Lent as a time of penance and, therefore, suffering, and so we dread it and reflect on it with grim expressions on our faces. Why does it never occur to us that we are happy when we have a chance to make a sacrifice for someone we love, and therefore, we should be extra happy during Lent, which is our chance to make sacrifices for the One we love more above all else?
Because I truly love my husband, I am pleased to have a chance to sew a button on his shirt or put just the amount of cumin that he likes in his chili. It doesn’t matter to me if I’d rather be reading a book or if I like a little less cumin (actually, I don’t eat chili at all so I’m usually stuck that night with leftovers or a sandwich). But those things don’t matter. I’m just happy that I have a chance to do something for him. Not all sacrifices are quite as easy to make; I love my children, but I am not so thrilled when I have to get up in the middle of the night to feed a baby or to deal with a bed-wetting. Still, getting up in the middle of the night is so much easier when done out of love for a hungry or wet child. In fact, I would be very upset if sickness or some other reason prevented me from getting up and helping my child.
Why don’t we feel the same way about making sacrifices for Our Lord? We look all too quickly for excuses. Sometimes just being pregnant during Lent tempts me to think, “Why should I make up any extra penance? Isn’t feeling sick all the time and never getting a comfortable night’s sleep enough of a penance? Why should I make up anything else to do?” Of course, if there’s a valid reason not to fast, we need to be prudent and safeguard the health of the body that God gave us; however, do we give up fasting reluctantly or with a huge sigh of relief? Do we use our ill health or pregnancy or just plain busy-ness as an excuse not to offer any extra sacrifices during Lent?
Instead of looking for excuses, we should be searching for new, creative ways to show our love for Our Lord. Just as we eagerly browse through a shop looking for the exactly right tie or watch that we want to buy for our husbands, not caring how long it takes or how many stores we need to stop at, so also should we look with equal eagerness and determination to find something we can offer to Our Lord, and then offer it with the same cheerful, patient love with which we give a present to our husbands.
That’s what the saints did. They were excited to find a new opportunity to show their love for God. Penance wasn’t a dreary duty but a personal expression of the deepest, strongest movement of their hearts — their love for Jesus Christ.
Every time we yearn for a cup of coffee or a taste of chocolate or whatever it is that we’ve given up for Lent, we can quietly close our eyes, smile at Our Lord, and say, “I love You, Jesus.” Isn’t that the way we give presents to those whom we love?
With this attitude, we truly can have a “Happy Lent!”