A few weeks ago, out of the blue, my five-year-old son remembered and began pining after a little trinket he received on Easter last year. I had tucked it away with the rest of the Easter decorations. Locating this toy would take some time. Additionally, our family had been sick, so I was already behind on tasks for the day. I did what any mom would do. I stalled.
“Ok, yes, I remember that toy. It is very cool, but it’s put away.”
“But, mom, I really, really waaaaannnnnnt it!”
“Yes, I understand that. We will get it out at Easter.”
Then I turned and proceeded to take care of tasks around the house. Undeterred, my son followed me around telling me just how much he needed the toy. I continued to listen and affirm his affection for the toy. I started to cave a bit. If he could just hold on, I said, I needed to get a few other things done before I started looking for it.
I continued to work. He continued to plead. I needed to change tactics. He wasn’t giving up, and I was fairly exasperated. Then, without any forethought, I crouched down, looked him straight in the eyes, and said
“Son, you do know that this toy isn’t your eternal good, right?”
“Of course not, Mom!” he exclaimed.
“Well, what is your eternal good, my love?”
“God!” he proclaimed loudly and with a huge smile.
Proud that clearly something was going right with our parenting, I talked to my son about building up spiritual treasure and how much better God is than anything material we could ever possess. And at the end, my sweet son said,
“But Mom, I still want that Easter toy.”
Even as adults, we are much like five-year-old’s, always caught up in the earthly things that we think will make us happy. We have been told that God is our eternal good. We know it, but we still have a hard time shifting focus away from bodily comforts towards our spiritual life. Enter the Lenten season.
“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).
The readings for this First Sunday of Lent contrast our choices in response to temptation: give in or rely upon God. In Eden, Adam and Eve have been given all that is good and true and beautiful, but they allow themselves to be dissatisfied and yield to the temptation to possess something more. In stark contrast, Jesus has taken refuge in the desert where he has nothing to eat or drink. The devil tempts him repeatedly, but he does not yield. He resists even the urge to feed himself and relies solely upon the support of his Heavenly Father.
During this Lenten season, we are sure to find ourselves in Adam and Eve’s shoes, unable to appreciate what we have and tempted to look for something more. We will also have “desert moments,” when we are without comfort and tempted to prefer bread over the word of God.
In order to prepare for these Lenten experiences, we need to strengthen ourselves through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These traditional Lenten practices are spiritual conditioning for our mind, soul, and body. Through them, we will learn to quell the voice of the devil, who tempts us to believe that bread is more important than God’s word.
And lest we think that these Lenten practices are solely a cross to bear, may we remember that Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden light. As we embrace the poverty of Lent, may our prayers help us fall more deeply in love with God, our fasting enable us to truly savor our meals, and our almsgiving free us from the grip of greed.
Lent is not only the painful and sorrowful way of the cross. Jesus has already walked that path for us. There will be moments of pain and sorrow this lent, but they are opportunities for us to grow closer to him who loves us best. They are opportunities for true joy and peace in the arms of the Father, as we learn that his arms are all we need to support ourselves on the walk towards Easter.