This Lenten journey has been fairly successful, but sometimes during the season we cut deals with God and seek middle ground
by George Valadie
Baseball season is upon us. Bishop Richard F. Stika is a Cardinals fan; I’m all about the Braves. I hate to admit it, but of late he’s enjoyed the upside of our teams’ rivalry.
It’s a sport of numbers – batting averages, pitching statistics, winning percentages. Three strikes, four balls, 90 feet, and million-dollar contracts.
I bring it up because this year I’ve been about a 90 percenter, having had a fairly successful Lenten journey thus far. You have to admit, those are darn good numbers in some arenas of life. If I were swinging a wooden bat at that clip, I’d be destined for the Hall of Fame.
However, if highway driving were the topic, a 90-percent success rate yields a wreck one mile out of every 10; jail time for sure.
Still, 90 percent or not, I’m not bragging, believe me. My life is deep in Lenten debt.
It wasn’t always this way though.
When I was a little tyke, I was so much better. I never failed in my Lenten efforts. I hit every pitch, a sure saint in the making. Whether I chose to give up sweet stuff or hitting my sister, I always did what I set out to do.
I was actually good at Lent. Better than I was at baseball.
Great though I was, I have to admit I didn’t always understand what it was, or why we did it, or how living without Twinkies would bring me closer to God. But I was good at it.
As those years passed, I admit, with head bowed, that not all my adult numbers have been as impeccable. Successful mostly, but there have been Lenten seasons when I dropped the ball. Some have been so-so. Yet some were everything I hoped they would be.
Like most, when I falter I get mad at myself that I lack the little-kid consistency I once had, for there have been more than a couple of 40-day stretches when I could have done better.
Assuming I’m not the only one to ever experience the occasional Lenten slump, aren’t you curious? It seems like we need a theory to explain some of this mess to our Creator. What happened to us along the way? Lazy? Confused? Think too much?
As children we didn’t think much at all. We played, we listened. I didn’t know enough to consider there might be options, and I sure didn’t know enough to rationalize. I thought the way a child thought.
When you’re young like that, there’s just right and wrong. That’s what mom and dad taught us; that’s what we believed. You did or you didn’t. And I was afraid not to “did.”
When we chose poorly, we also knew we had sinned. The words “venial” and “mortal” got a lot more public play back then. Spankings were more frequent, too.
The stuff of our lives seemed simpler, too. It’s mine or it’s yours, but it can’t be both.
However, when we witnessed this developing in our own kids, how many hours did we spend teaching them to share? To understand that there can be a middle ground? That we can take turns? That your idea is good but so is hers? Can’t we blend both?
The language evolved as they did. Black and white can have shades of gray. Situations can have nuances. Success might be choosing the best from a list of nothing but bad choices. And sometimes, avoiding the worst really is the very best we can do.
Apparently, what we do in life, we often do in prayer. At least I do.
So we can find ourselves compromising with God, or trying. Each Lent begins with good intentions; it’s when we falter that we cut the deal and seek the middle ground.
“I gave up beer but need to trade my ‘free’ Sundays for my regular Thursday nights with the guys. He’ll be OK with that, won’t he?”
“Can I just do my Lent after Easter?”
“I’ll do two tomorrow.”
“Pork’s not meat, is it!?”
“Maybe I’ll just give up one Diet Coke a day.”
It is what we’ve taught our kids after all, it’s what we do every day. Discern all the options, see all the shades, consider all the possibilities. And then make it work.
These aren’t just necessary skills, they’re tools of survival. Good or bad, it’s often how we smooth out human relations.
That is what I’m selling to the maker of my soul, trying to explain, if not negotiate, the occasional Lent that has drifted awry. Searching for a reason. “Life was easy, then it got hard, we did what we did to make it work. You do, too, don’t you, Lord?”
It’s pathetic, isn’t it? Deep down, I’m having trouble even selling that to myself. Hoping our adult-life skills earn our after-life goals. Bargaining with the Divine.
“Hey, Lord, can we make a deal? Thanks for covering me, I’ll get you next time.”
I hear God laughing; just not sure He’s dealing.
Dear God – I try, I do, but I just can’t identify with all those days in the desert. Thank you for each “next time.” Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.