Lent always brings certain challenges for me. In fact, I usually try to stay aware to see what special sacrifices are in store for me. I don't mean things like fasting and giving up chocolate, although I do fast and I have given up chocolate during some years. I mean the challenges that make me realize that the Good Lord has a great sense of humor. These challenges keep me on my toes, reminding me to strive to be a better person.
Sometimes the challenges are small and related to my Lenten sacrifices, like the year my cousin got married during Lent. They had the best make-your-own-sundae buffet, every type of syrup, nut and candy you could use to dress up a bowl of ice cream. More than half of them were chocolate. That was one of the years I gave up chocolate. Vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles doesn't really make a sundae.
There was the year I gave up shopping for frivolous purchases and stood in front of a display of clearance items, 75% off. My bargain-hunter gene kicked in, and before I knew what I was doing, I had purchased two mugs for 50 cents each. Doh!
Sometimes the challenges come in the form of a project, like Lent of 2003. That was the year the orphan kittens came into our lives. Nothing says challenge and sacrifice like changing a litter box for 3-5 kittens and 3 cats. And once we weaned them, I was the one who took 3 of the kittens to a pet store where they were quickly adopted. After helping to feed and care for them for 6 weeks, I cried as if I were giving up my own children.
I thought that my challenge this year was agreeing to babysit the 2 year old daughter of a single mom. But I was mistaken. Sierra has taken it upon herself to improve my patience. I had the brilliant idea to try to have the children abstain from sweets just for Ash Wednesday. I know. What was I thinking? I had this conversation with Sierra:
"Can I have ice cream?" she asked.
"Honey, today is Ash Wednesday. I think you can get through one day without sweets. And anyway, have you had breakfast yet? It's noon."
"No. Can I have pancakes?" I need to elaborate here. Sierra's idea of pancakes is chocolate chip pancakes.
"I'm sorry Sierra, but I really want you to try to get through one--" Sierra marches off to her room to cry and whine about the unfairness of it all. Loudly. Marina helped me out by talking to her.
I want to be perfectly clear. I do not force the 5 year old to fast. Our house was full of food. I simply wanted her to avoid a few things for one day.
Later that day she learned what the other thing was.
"Can I have a sandwich?"
"Yes, but no meat." (Ack! Why did I say that? We always abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent, but I usually don't point out that we are doing that.)
"But I want meat!"
"You like peanut butter," I offer.
She shakes her head.
"Grilled cheese sandwich?"
She shakes her head harder and storms off again.
This time, I followed her to her room for a talk. Which became a yell. Which made me feel so extremely imperfect. The yell got her attention, though, so I figured I would grab the moment and explain what fasting and abstinence means to me.
We have so much. My children do not lack for their basic needs. When I fast and start feeling hungry, I think about the people in the world who have no choice in their hunger. It makes me aware of what it means to have an empty belly and no way to fill it. I tried to explain that there are times when we can't have exactly what we want. I told her that I fast so that when I see someone starving, I know how they feel and I am compelled to help them.
She ended up having a grilled cheese sandwich. But just in case I thought I got my message across, she had another tantrum in the evening because it wasn't fair that we asked her to put away all the toys she took out. My saintly wings are tattered and clipped after the first day of Lent and I'm sure God is having a good laugh. That's what I'm here for.