Nicole Johnson contemplates how our Lenten tasks can become hurdles if we're not approaching them in a spirit of love.
“Where’s the number B? B, where are you?”
I was playing a spelling game with my daughter and she was looking through the letter tiles trying to find the first “number” to spell ball. She was so focused and determined in her search; completely unaware of the minor detail that she was on the hunt for a letter, not a number. It was one of those moments when the reality of her extra chromosome, and all its challenges and vulnerabilities, hit this mama’s heart hard.
“Mary,” I gently corrected her, “B is a letter, not a number.”
Not stopping to absorb, or even acknowledge her error, she simply plowed ahead, patiently sounded out the word and correctly placed each letter tile in the right order to spell ball and complete her task (with great pride, I might add). Taking in her smile that spanned ear to ear, I once again found myself in this strange but familiar place of excitement mixed with fear, in awe of all she has accomplished while firmly grounded in all she doesn’t yet understand. Here she is, months away from completing her elementary career, and she somehow missed the foundational lesson on the identity of those things that make up the alphabet and those other things we use to count, add and subtract. Crazy thing is, she’s spelling three- and four-letter words on her own, she’s reading and writing and adding and subtracting -- all without a care in the world about the proper titles for the tools she’s using to do these things.
Another real hurdle for her involves the five tricky “wh” words that all mean very different things: who, what, when, where and why. If you ask her, “What did you do in school today?” she will undoubtedly answer, “Good!” Or if you ask, “Where did you eat lunch today?” she will answer, “Bagel with cream cheese.” She hears the word lunch, thinks "food" and answers accordingly. Or she hears the word "school," knows she always has a good time at that place, and answers, “Good!"
Her mind is this enormous labyrinth and she literally has to travel each individual path a number of times before she finds her way to the right exit, before her brain can land on the path that starts with a where question and ends with an answer involving a place. She will get there; it just takes time. A lot of time and a lot of patience.
We start to avoid tough questions when they find their way into our hearts, ignore the desire for answers for fear they may set us on a path more challenging than we are prepared to walk. #catholicmom
The season of Lent can feel a bit like a labyrinth; lots of paths we can take to get to Easter in the right frame of mind and state of soul. There’s fasting, abstaining from meat on Fridays, almsgiving, personal sacrifice, repentance; all sorts of tasks that can end up feeling suffocating or overwhelming if we’ve missed the foundational truth -- that we are loved and our job is to love.
It’s often been said we should have a childlike faith. We should approach Jesus with the innocent and carefree acceptance of, say, a child accepting candy from a stranger -- no questions asked -- just the simple exchange of a kindness from one who is selfless to one who is vulnerable enough to accept it. The reality is, of course, that we grow and life happens. We become skeptical of the stranger. The world tells us we can -- we must -- depend only on ourselves. Our happiness is ours alone to create; we need to write our own story. We not only question the stranger, we worry that accepting His gift will require more of us than we are willing to give. We may continue to go through the motions of attending Mass or praying a daily Rosary, but we slowly distance ourselves from the person we are doing all this for. We start to avoid the tough questions when they find their way into our hearts, ignore the desire for answers for fear they may set us on a path more challenging than we are prepared to walk. Before long, we may be devout in our tasks yet find ourselves spelling with numbers and counting with letters.
I’m not good at quiet. It makes me uncomfortable. I’ve always been better with honoring the tasks within my faith than building a relationship that has a solid foundation. Truth be told, I’d rather pray a rosary than sit and have an honest conversation with God. The latter leaves me exposed and vulnerable. In the quiet, I’m forced to sit with my fears and anxieties and really question what God is trying to teach me, what He is asking of me. Oh, how I wish He’d just hand me a list of to-do’s and let me continue this ignorant, yet blissful path through the maze -- checking everything off, assured I’ll reach the right exit.
Whatever we may call ourselves -- Catholic, Protestant or atheist, Republican, Democrat or Independent, introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between -- God calls us son and daughter and He identifies us with love. The labyrinth of life, of coming to know ourselves in the context of who we were really created to be, is full of choices and many lead us to dead ends. The beauty is, whether we reach for the candy or not, we are never walking the path alone. And the secret is, the path of love brings us to the right exit each and every time. When we take a moment to sit with this most basic truth, the answers to all those tricky “wh” questions are not so difficult after all.
When: Always and forever
Where: Right where I am
Why: Because He has called me by name and I am His
Copyright 2021 Nicole Johnson
Images: Canva Pro
About the Author
Nicole and her husband have been blessed with three children. Nicole markets the mission of a non-profit that provides early therapies for children diagnosed with developmental delays. She and her husband serve on the board for the New England chapter of Bethany Christian Services, a national adoption agency. Nicole's family advocates for life, adoption, and embracing children with special needs. Visit her blog at Joy in the Journey.