On Lent

Halfway across the desert...

At the beginning of last summer - before Matthew left for basic training - we all spent a Saturday cleaning out our garage. I have heard that some people park their cars in the garage. We use our garage as nature intended - a storage space for all manner of stuff. Our garage is like a giant version of that one junk drawer everyone has in the kitchen. It is the place where stuff just kind of… ends up.

We spent the whole day emptying out the garage, separating trash, stuff we wanted to give away, stuff we wanted to keep, and the stuff we wanted to go through more thoroughly. By the end of the day we had carted off the trash and put everything back in the garage in nice, neat sections, ready to take next steps. The garage was cleaner and certainly more organized. But we weren’t exactly done. There was still more to do. We even made a plan for how to approach the next steps.

And. That never happened.

Life intervened. Shit happened. The next weekend instead of taking stuff to the thrift shop to donate, we instead went to Costco to get - you guessed it - more stuff. A few days after that we got a new vacuum cleaner, and the old one went into the give away section. Something here, something there. Fast forward to now and the garage is a full blown mess again. It’s like a Hoarders starter kit.

We got halfway through and then stopped. And everything went back to at least as bad as it was before. 

It seems fitting that we made our first attempts to tame the bedlam of the garage yesterday, on the second Sunday of Lent. Not because there is some kind of direct biblical parallel between cleaning a garage and the Christian faith. I am pretty sure Jesus didn’t have a garage, and I am equally certain that if he did it probably wouldn’t be nearly as chaotic as ours. Of course, Jesus probably could perform some divine miracle of cleanliness in our garage, but looking around the world it feels like he has better shit to do with his time.

No, it was appropriate that our cleaning efforts occurred Sunday because Lent is the traditional commemoration of Jesus 40 days in the wilderness - the time Jesus spent in the desert before his crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus, we are told, knew the sacrifice he was being asked to make. To prepare, he went to the desert for 40 days of prayer, fasting, and focus. Lent is the church’s way of remembering. 

Today is the 20th day of Lent. We are halfway through. Halfway through Jesus’ time in the desert. In what feels like a halfway point in the pandemic. Halfway between still feeling the impacts of the previous administration and also seeing some fleeting signs of hope in the new one. Halfway is an exciting time. You can see progress. Halfway is a scary time. You aren’t done.

And if my garage is any indication, chaos can sure as shit return. With a vengeance. And an air mattress I can’t find the plug for.

A couple of things stand out to me about Lent. 

The first is that Jesus knew what was coming on Good Friday. That blows my mind. It is one thing to know in some general sense that bad things happen. It is something altogether worse to know a very specifically bad thing is happening to you. I mean, we all know we are gonna die one day. But that understanding hits differently when you are sitting in an oncologist’s office.

The second thing that stands out to me about Lent is that Jesus’ response to knowing what was coming was to go to the desert. To take a minute. To gather himself and think through some shit.

I think both of these things apply to OUR halfway point - this weird liminal space where we are collectively right now.

Bad stuff is happening. It has been happening. And while I think most of us understood that in a theoretical way before now, the last few years (especially the last 12 months) has brought it home in a real and urgent way. While global warming, susceptibility to disinformation, extreme inequality across social structures, and systemic racism were all problems we knew existed, they have been called to our attention with the fierce urgency of direct experience. We have all had our lives directly affected by these things now.

Just like Jesus, we all have to respond to the knowledge we have about the real impacts we face. We have to do something. Unfortunately, most of us can’t go to the desert and be tempted by the devil for 40 days. And I have to say, that sounds pretty awesome right now, like a trip to Vegas.

We have to stay here and find our way through halfway.

Halfway through is not finished. Halfway through is not the end. The garage may look better, but the work is not done yet.

We are only halfway.

There are signs that things are getting better. Vaccinations are going in arms. A large stimulus plan was just approved in Congress, thanks completely to the Democratic wins in Georgia. The Biden administration is working to undo the damage done in the previous 4 years. The sun is shining and the weather is getting warmer and it feels like we are finally starting to collectively turn a corner after a year of lockdowns and fear and frustration and protest.

But we are only halfway.

There is more to be done and the back end is the hard part because we see good things happening and it feels so close and we all just want this to be done. The temptation is to stop, take off the mask, breathe spring air and head to the movies. 

And. We are only halfway.

We can only go the other half together. We can only walk the last few miles by sharing love, support, and encouragement. By giving and receiving grace. Yes, there is a lot of work to do. The garage won’t clean itself. Trust me. I waited for months for the garage to clean itself. It’s still a mess.

And while we are only halfway there, we ARE halfway. We have made it through. We are making it through. 

We don’t have to believe that we CAN do this, we have to see that we ARE doing this. We have been. And we can still.

Let’s keep going.

Let’s finish this.

And if anyone has any garage organizing tips, shoot me an email.