Almost every year, Ash Wednesday seems to sneak up on me. I know it may be hard for my Louisiana friends to conceive, but king cakes and Mardi Gras parades are not a cultural norm here, so considering that a string of Christmas lights still sits in a lump by my front door, and Valentine-heart stickers litter the carpet, the upcoming Lenten season is hardly a blip on my consciousness until Ash Wednesday is upon us. Each year, as I worry how I’ll get through the day of fasting in a good mood, I chastise myself, thinking, I should have a plan by now—a book to read that I order before the second week of Lent, resolutions already made for penances and almsgiving, a regimen in order for fasting.
While I like to tell myself I’m just a poor planner, the truth is that part of my procrastination is likely due to the fact that Lent seems hard, so I drag my feet in preparation. If I’m a day or two behind in making resolutions, it’s a day or two less that I have to keep them.
But then I hear the words of the first reading at today’s Mass and am reminded there is no need for my avoidance: Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment (Joel 2:12-13).
Gracious. Merciful. Slow to anger. Rich in kindness. Relenting in punishment. What have I to be anxious about? Have I forgotten who it is who is calling me back? Like a loving parent, God just wants us back to experience his mercy and kindness, yet here I am every year, thinking it is about me and my own self-imposed penances. I also realize it’s the same scene that plays out again and again in my own house. A child is rude, selfish, impatient, cruel to a sibling, etc. etc. I show my disapproval, and they run to hide in closets or under a bed in their shame. If they could only know how easily and quickly they could return. Perhaps if I trusted more in God’s relenting punishment and rich kindness, they could learn to trust in my own meager display of it. Therefore, let us return to our kind Father with our whole hearts, and trust that he, with graciousness and mercy, will direct our Lenten practices.
May you have a blessed Lent.