I started off Lent with great gusto, as many of us are inclined to do, with a robust checklist of commitments. Besides fasting from certain foods, I decided to participate in the 40 Days in 40 Bags decluttering challenge. I’ve done it before, and it gives me a good jumpstart on spring cleaning as well as a considerable pile of donation items for the poor. Decluttering is admittedly hard for me, as I am apt to avoid dealing with a pile of indecisions. So it seemed like a good Lenten penance to set an amount of time each day to sort through disorganized closets and and old clothes, broken and forgotten toys and books, and random storage bins in the basement.
And then, not even into a week of Lent, my kindergartener came home from school with a fever and tested positive for influenza A.
My decluttering efforts came to halt, my time taken up by frequent temperature checks, Tylenol doses, chicken soup preparation, and plenty of snuggles. And as is often the case in a big family, several of my other kids and husband succumbed to the flu over the course of the next two weeks, leaving me to be the head nurse of the household.
And yet, despite the need to temporarily abandon my original commitment, it has been a very fruitful Lent indeed. Fasting from a particular food has actually been easy. Serving the sick people in my household has felt quite sacrificial.
Lenten commitments can sometimes come disguised as prideful practices of self-improvement, and there’s a fine line between improving oneself for the sake of holiness versus improving oneself for one’s own sake. These commitments are not New Year’s resolutions, after all. If we are committed to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, then maybe giving up my time to serve others is a far better penance than uprooting an uncomfortable habit merely for the sake of myself.
Perhaps God is showing me that the caring and maintaining of our stuff will always take a backseat to the caring of our people.
I can’t help but think, with the protocols in place for this new coronavirus pandemic, the world is experiencing a type of Lent of its own. It’s a time where people must declutter the superfluous meetings, outings, and activities. A time where we must intentionally choose to protect our families and those who are most at-risk in our communities. A time where we commit to saying no to our own leisures, even if it means great disappointment, for the benefit of others.
I don’t know what the Eastertide of this pandemic will look like, nor when that will be. From what the experts are telling us, we may be in the thick of it when we don our Easter dresses and bonnets in April. Nevertheless, the world waits in prayerful hope for its Easter season, when the virus has dissipated and the number of cases drastically decreases. I hopefully envision an Easter looking like a greater appreciation for the people we love, and a renewed determination to protect society’s most vulnerable.
My children’s flu diagnosis has shifted my perspective of what constitutes a good Lent. Although I am certainly not grateful that they are sick, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve them more intimately than usual. As I pray that their little bodies recover soon, I also pray that the world recognizes the great spiritual opportunity in hunkering down and answering the call to love others as themselves.
St. Francis de Sales says “In truth, love either takes away the hardship of labor, or makes it dear to us when we feel it.” I pray that as the world enters into one of the harshest experiences of wilderness in recent history, that we rise to the call of sacrificial love, and emerge with shouts of Hallelujah, thanking God for His abundant and merciful graces towards humankind.