Lent has begun. Every year, I sit quietly before it begins and I make a private list of how I will observe Lent. I try to find the right balance of “give something up” and “do something extra.” And more often than not, God has other ideas. It’s not that He objects to or overrides my grand plans, it’s just that He provides more. God plans Lent. I just have to show up.
The first week of Lent, I watched a young man die of cancer while my eldest son, his dear friend, stood helplessly in an ICU. The second week of Lent began with death come too soon. The third week of Lent will find me at two funerals—one for a very old man and one for a very young man, My little girls balk when we read Easter stories. They want me to skip the pages that hold the crucifixion and the burial in the tomb. No one really wants to look at death. But sometimes, God picks your Lent.
Lent has a way of forcing us to consider the ends of our lives. It has a way of asking us to answer essential questions. Every year, Lent comes along and makes old men and women of all of us. In a way, Lent is an annual practice for the twilight of life. St. John of the Cross writes about that time, “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possession and human success, but rather on how much we have loved.”
So, too, in the Lent of the year, as the earth starts to warm soft and damp beneath our feet and there are the faintest stirrings of new life in the trees, we stop and reflect and look to our souls. How much have we loved? How well have we loved? Is there giving yet to give? It is not yet over. We are not yet to the close of this life.
Lent asks us to closely examine the way we live in light of the way we want to die. This Lent, a man will be put to rest just a couple weeks after his thirty-second birthday. I assure you, we know not the hour or the moment that Jesus calls us home.
What we do know is that for today, for this season, He gives us Lent. He beckons us, with the Universal Church, to draw closer to Him, to truly see the plans He has for our lives. He wants us to surrender our plans—our plans for Lent and our plans for next summer and our plans for next year. He wants us to leave them at the foot of His cross and to see that He has a better plan.
We can’t skip the pages with the crucifixion and the burial in the tomb. We have to hang there with Him and to see from His vantage point the sick and the hurting and the poor and the grieving. We have to understand that He hung there to bring them mercy.
Your hour has not yet come. Walk down from Cavalry’s hill. Be the hands and the feet of the crucified Lord and extend His mercy. You only have one life to offer. Make it count.