By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 3, 2014
I have recently consumed a mountain of pretzels as a substitute for what I really want, namely chocolate bars and brownies. Yes, as my readers may recall, I gave up sweets for Lent, and so far I have a fairly decent batting average. Let’s pause for a huge sigh here as I assume my best rendition of a martyr’s face.
Let me assure you there’s no way in the world I could have gotten this far on my own. If I try to cut back on sweets at other times of the year, I start sneaking chocolate kisses and peanut butter cups after just a few hours.
I believe Lent has a secret ingredient, which helps folks go for miraculously long stretches without caving in. I take this as another proof for God’s existence, one you won’t find in the theology books, but it works for me.
How is it we can sometimes do things we thought were impossible? I have a friend who gives up his cherished evening gin and tonics, along with morning espressos, and makes it through the 40 days with sanity intact. Other friends eat meatless meals or skip breakfast to give extra money to the poor. And no, they are not going around all gloomy and grim-faced. In fact, they seem quite cheerful.
My theory is that God is so filled with love for us that when we try to do something to return that affection, he sends us grace to help us.
It’s like the times when a tiny child hands you a drawing with “I love you” scrawled on it alongside a bunch of crooked scribbles, which the child says is a baby duck. And of course you admire the drawing, and maybe you even tape it to the refrigerator door because you love that little child. And you know that if you applaud the duck, you may one day have a refrigerator papered over with elegantly drawn flowers, alligators, hippos and trees. All because you admired the initial awkward effort, which was a true love offering.
So to me that’s what Lent is like. It’s not about making ourselves miserable, walking around with pebbles in our shoes so we’re in danger of becoming grumpy and despondent. Instead, it’s about showing our affection for our heavenly father, who has showered countless gifts on us.
Each morning I marvel at cardinals, bluebirds and finches munching on seeds at our window feeder. I go downstairs and am stunned by the elegance of our orchids, in full splendor, on the windowsill. Later I admire the blueberry bushes all frilly with baby blooms, the heavenly hyacinths decorating the path—and don’t forget the pear trees and Japanese magnolias in resplendent garb.
God didn’t have to make thousands of varieties of flowers, butterflies and trees—not to mention birds and beasts. The world could have been much simpler, and perhaps in black and white. But he’s an extravagant father indeed.
During Lent we get a chance to do something for him. Our sacrifices become offerings of love we place on his altar. They pale beside the affection he shows us, but that’s alright. He’s a doting father, and he appreciates the smallest, clumsiest gestures.
He gladly accepts the chocolates, the coffees, the glasses of wine. And I’ll bet he wouldn’t mind if we wrote him a simple note telling him what’s in our heart. We could even sketch a wobbly lamb or a simple sparrow just for him. After all, who can say? There could be a refrigerator in heaven.
Lorraine’s latest books are “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a biography of Flannery O’Connor, and a laugh-out-loud mystery—“Death Dons a Mask”—set at a fictional parish in Decatur. Artwork is by Jef Murray. Readers may write to the Murrays at email@example.com.