One Ash Wednesday, I made up my mind to lose those stubborn five pounds. I set out to simplify the family meals and eliminate snacks, sugary sodas and desserts. Before I could get the pantry cleaned out, my brother-in-law called to ask if our family would help him get his daughter and her 3-year-old son out of town. And out of a marriage situation of drugs and abuse. Thus began our Lent of Love.
Theresa and Joey arrival three days later challenging my schedule, my meal preparations and my Lenten resolve. The Lord had not told these two hurting people to give up Cokes and chips and brownies for Lent — any more than he had told me! My children needed the comforting snacks in the pantry more than ever as they helped me rearrange our home to welcome two new people.
The unexpected sacrifice of making room for them in our lives began our family style Lent of Love. God, who is Love itself, kept us alert to his presence in boundless opportunities to serve. Their need for love followed us wherever we turned, led us where we needed to go and jumped out at us from behind a door. Little inconveniences became little joys, like watching out for Joey whose favorite place to play was up and down the stairs in his first two-story home.
Lent that year meant loving Theresa. Loving her in everyday ways as she and Joey adjusted to a new city, new surroundings, our schedules and our way of life. Loving her by helping her find a job, a day-care center and later an apartment. Loving her with God’s love.
Love at work
We saw the fear and sadness in their faces and body language slowly transformed into trust and hope. We took them to Mass and to prayer meetings and they absorbed the love of the Lord until they were full to overflowing with gratefulness. We saw Love at work.
When Theresa got her first paycheck she filled the pantry and refrigerator with all the items on that week’s grocery list. I got home from grocery shopping to find no room for the same items I had bought. We laughed and cried and hugged each other. Then we stuffed cans and bottles anywhere they would fit.
We would take long walks together after supper and sometimes she would cry because she didn’t have the family she saw laughing and talking at the dinner table. Theresa didn’t always agree with our counsel, but she knew we all loved her and wanted the best for her.
Their visit lasted exactly through Lent. We helped them move into an apartment on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
I didn’t lose weight, but I lost forever my presumption that I could dictate what self-improvement program the Lord would help me with during Lent. The best change we can make, with God’s grace, is learning new expressions of his love to freely give those he puts squarely in our path. His love gave us our Lent of Love.
I learned the deep and permanent connection between Love and Lent. The connection is stronger than family ties. It’s the joy of giving that comes at the far end of willpower crumbling into frustration that drives us to call out for God’s help, then let go and watch Love at work.
When we give our Lent to the Lord of Love, we take him at his word. “Glory be to him, whose power working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” (Eph 3:20)
What unexpected challenges are making this a Lent of Love for you?
(© 2013, revised 2017 Nancy HC Ward)