Hard to believe, but your long, hard Lenten slog is nearly at an end! Palm Sunday is fast approaching, and Lent will give way to the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. So, how’ve those Lenten resolutions been working for you? Thirty-some days ago I rashly vowed to give up complaining for Lent. No bellyaching, no derogatory remarks, no eye-rolling – that was the plan. How’d it turn out? Well, I’ve stopped personifying the quote “If I were to give up sarcasm, that would leave interpretive dance as my only means of communication,” but it has become clear to me that this project is far bigger than a mere 40-day Lenten endeavor. Facing my complaining head-on has forced me to reckon with the similarities between my life and that of one of the characters depicted in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. The condensed version of the story is that a saint in Heaven greets her husband who has come to visit. Her husband in this life-after-death is actually a dwarfish figure leading a tall, theatrical ghost, the “Tragedian,” on a chain. While the saint addresses herself to the dwarf, it is the Tragedian who does his talking for him. It becomes clear that this woman’s husband spent his life moaning and complaining, reveling in self-pity, and that now in death he is being progressively consumed by his self-obsession. His wife tries to free him so that he can join her in Heaven, with what Lewis calls “the invitation to all joy, singing out of her whole being like a bird’s song on an April evening, [which] seemed to me such that no creature could resist it.” Yet resist it the little man did, and dwindled away until he disappeared entirely, leaving only the Tragedian, the personification of his complaint, behind. Him the saintly wife ignored; he was but a ghastly caricature of the man she had loved.
Ending up a ghastly caricature has never really been my life’s goal. Believe me, I want to change, but I will be working on my complaining problem for the foreseeable future, as it is such a significant part of me. Massive infusions of faith are in order, as that seems to be the deficit that plays host to my chronic carping. You see, if I had the faith to trust in God’s beneficence, nothing “bad” would ever happen to me again – whatever happened, I would trust that it had come from God who loves me, and that it was His will for me at that moment. How can you curse a traffic jam when you know that’s where God wants you to be, and that you will remain there only as long as He wants you to? It is a blessing – you are “providentially jammed.” As things stand now, whenever something unexpected occurs, I simply lack the faith to look up to Heaven and thank God for what He is doing in my life. Turn that around, and the complaining should stop. Pretty simple, but not easy – a good sign, because nothing worth having ever really comes easy. The theme of the third and final Scrutiny last Sunday, if you recall, was “Life!” Jesus did the impossible – He resurrected a man dead for four days. Stuck in my complaining ways for well over forty years, there is still hope for me. Jesus came to give us new life.
So, if your Lenten resolution fizzled, learn from that. If what you resolved was worth practicing, resolve to take it up again next Lent, or better yet just take it up again right now. I personally have pinpointed a real flaw in my character, and I hope with God’s help to address it day in and day out as He gives the opportunity. No doubt there will be plenty of opportunities…
… like the next time I’m providentially jammed.
On the memorial of the Martyrs of Croyland
Deo omnis gloria!