I was sipping an herbal tea in the chilly and confused Colorado sunshine yesterday afternoon with a girlfriend, recounting an actual conversation I’d had with my 5 year old, and I laid the (slightly) hyperbolic one-liner on her as an example of how hard the last week has been: croup, stomach virus round 2 million, traveling daddy, poop exploring toddler.
“You’re dragging me to Calvary!!”
I did, actually, yell that across the house as the naughty child in question scampered down to his basement lair after hitting his brother in the head with a butterfly net-turned-lightsaber.
“Wow,” said she, laughing and setting down her chai, “you’re dragging me to Calgary! That’s intense.”
(And yet, no offense to Canadian winters, but I presume they’re not quite on par with the Crucifixion.)
Still, it made us both laugh, because her verbal misstep was funny and because I was being a little bit ridiculous. But I was also being a little bit honest.
This Lent has been different, because I didn’t prep for it, not in the way I’ve done in years past, starching my sackcloth and making DIY ashes out of ambitious New Year’s Resolutions thinly disguised as piety.
Nope, this year I just threw in the haircloth towel at the outset and let the sacrifices present themselves to me as they came, not in spite of my marital and motherly vocation, but right from the very heart of it.
And come they did.
I was amazed, not by how difficult things were, but by how many opportunities I have every single day to cast my heart heavenward and utter an internal “fiat.”
(Fiat can sound a little bit like a swear word sometimes.)
What has been most surprising has been that the opportunities to suffer appear to have increased over the past 5 weeks, with a multiplication of minor illnesses and naughtinesses and stresses and tensions.
But my anger and frustration have not increased. My sense of feeling assaulted by the fruit of my own womb or of being abandoned by God in difficult moments have not increased.
So to recap: things are harder, but they feel lighter. Lighter because I’m more aware I’m not in it alone, and because grace is real and effective.
It’s transformative not of the suffering, but of the sufferer.
That’s what I’ve never understood about heroic virtue and the saints and all my holy friends whose lives appear, at least to the outside observer, to be horrifyingly difficult.
How can anyone want to get close to you, Lord? St. Teresa of Avila had it right when she questioned Your relationship skills, I’d muse privately, observing some heroic soul undergoing yet another trial, enduring yet another setback.
But this little liturgical season of abandonment to Divine Providence, (ish. I’d say I’ve had moments of light abandonment. Work in progress.) I’ve had little glimpses of insight into the heart of God, into the economy of His grace.
And it’s really is sufficient, it turns out.
All the times I haven’t felt that to be true in the past, I think, had more to do with my unwillingness to let him shoulder the load with me.
I’ve got to allow myself to be dragged up that hill, right up to the Cross. And this vocation provides ample opportunities for growth in holiness.
My stubborn (and frankly, quite stupid) insistence that I got this, I can do this through gritted metaphorical teeth usually ended up with me licking my wounds and sulking in an adolescent pique of temper, knowing full well that I shouldn’t have moved that heavy dresser by myself, so to speak. And now my back ached and it was stuck in the middle of the room, even uglier and more obvious than before.
Am I losing you with the home decor metaphors? Mea culpa, moving furniture around is (one of) my love languages.
My prayer is that this Lenten discipline doesn’t burn out in the bright splendor of Eastertide, that I don’t both gleefully stuff my face with delicate Trader Joe’s chocolate and return to a shrewish, self reliant position of git er done-ness that leaves me exhausted and puddlish at the end of a weekday and wondering why I signed up for this marathon in the first place.
Because when I let Him run alongside me, when I don’t shove Him away and sprint for the finish line under my own power, the miles are easier. The shin splints might still come, and the ice might still be necessary, but the endorphins are flowing, too.
I think I’ll close here, since I’ve now referenced most of my personal leisure activities and tried to connect them to the spiritual life. Though if pressed, I think I could make a decent case for how sitting on the couch in sweatpants drinking wine with your beloved while rain falls outside the darkened windows and the children sleep peacefully in their beds at 8:55 pm on a Tuesday evening while you enjoy an uninterrupted episode of Madame Secretary is a fleeting foretaste of Heaven.