We need not search for Lenten practices, since they will find us. Sometimes a Lenten practice comes in the form of illness, the death of a loved one, a family dispute, or a financial setback. Trials and hardships come in the course of daily life, unexpected and unwanted. Our part is to deal with them as best we can, with faith, acceptance, trust, and peace. –Sarah Schwartzberg, OSB
Here we are, a little over a week into Lent. I was talking to someone who felt like she did not choose something “hard enough.” I was reminded of a time when I was on a pilgrimage; not the Camino, a long, long time ago. It was 1990 and I had not yet returned to church, but I was doing an imitation of a part-time, self-styled catholic-esque person. God however had other plans for me… but that is another story for another day.
On this trip a group of us were hiking up a very steep and rocky path on a hot day. One woman decided that she should do so on her knees and it did not take long for her to start bleeding, but she pressed on for a bit. At the same time an older man with a cane could not continue; he was in tears feeling as if he were failing God.
Like a spectral figure, suddenly an old nun came along behind us, moving at a pretty good clip. Where did she come from? Anyway she surveyed the bloody knees and walked in front of the young woman, stopping her from going forth. Looking down she said something to the effect of “you cannot choose your own suffering, God will send you what God will send you.” Startled and upset, the young woman cried, “You are getting in the way of me pleasing God.” With her hand extended over the young one’s head, the sister whispered “God bless you child. May you find your way.”
Turning her attention to the older man, she went to comfort him. With her arm around his heaving shoulders – he was really crying now – she said nothing, but stood there silently. Finally some of his sobs abated and he looked at her with red-rimmed eyes and asked, “Sister, how can we please God?” The nun looked at him and smiled, saying nothing. He pleaded, “Sister, please! Help me! Please!” She stood back and regarded him with a most loving gaze. Then she said, “Maybe all we have to do to please God is pay attention and follow Him. When we are asked to suffer, then we must surrender. And when we want to induce our own suffering, we must walk away.” The man looked startled saying, “But what about her?” and pointing towards the girl who had only inched a short and bloody distance away. Sister replied, “What about her? Jesus said follow me, not follow her.”
Turning to look at the rest of us, about seven more people who stood stock still and in awe, she asked if we had enough water for such a hot day. I did, but another person said they forgot to bring some. This was 1990, ubiquitous bottles of cold water were not in quite the same supply. Sister opened her small backpack and produced a frozen bottle of water. She told the woman that it would melt quickly on such a hot day, and that it would provide her with what she needed.
And as quickly as she came up behind us, she took off ahead of us, climbing up the rocks like a mountain goat, disappearing around a bend. We never saw her at the top or coming down, nor did we see her again in the small town where we all stayed. I have often wondered if she was real or an angelic messenger – and I am not that woo-woo, but you never know.
That day was a real lesson, one I think of often. What God has in store for us is always enough. If it does not seem like it today, we know not what tomorrow might bring. Lent will find each of us if we are open, like Christ who seeks us continually.
Let me ask again – how is your Lent going? Is it full of you doing what you choose to give up, or full of what God asks from you?