It’s spring in Virginia, and the weather is crazy. Last week we had four inches of snow. Road salt designs still decorate my car. And in some big box parking lots, the plow-mountain remnants of that fast receding ice age shrink to nothing along the edges. That is because the subsequent days have seen temperatures soar into the 60s and 70s, forcing spring bulbs to disclose their hiding places and runners like me to don their shorts. Today promises to be nothing less than tempestuous. Temperatures will climb again into the 70s, only to fall off a cliff by midafternoon with the approach of a violent cold front, marked by winds of 20, 30 even 40 mph, lashing rain and even thunderstorms. After a free fall through the 60s, 50s, 40s and 30s, I’m told the temperature will be 20 degrees by the time I come in to work at 5 AM tomorrow morning. It’s the time of year when the atmospherics become bipolar, and without counsel or medication to carve out a predictable middle.
Lent reveals that my internal weather is not much different from the excitement on the outside. Our multiplication of services gives me that many more opportunities to engage with my need of repentance; our attempts at self-denial and fasting gives me real-time reacquaintance with the power and persistence of my passions. My default setting seems stuck on denial. And it takes some lenten heavy lifting to throw aside the barriers my repeated denials place in the pathway of real repentance.
Just this past week, I wrote to my colleagues at work in my new capacity as manager an invitation to give input to our responsibility to keep our fitness facility clean and tidy. One colleague wrote of her frustration that the base and sides of the cardio machines were disgusting and didn’t look like they had ever been touched by anyone working any of the shifts before her. Turns out, I work the preceding evening shift, and she was complaining about things I had left undone. My first reflex was to ignore what she said, then to deny (to myself) that she was talking about me, then to make excuses that I was busy working on the floors. And then I saw what I was doing, which was, in fact, worse than the initial offense. So now I’ve owned the lack in my clean-up routine and informed her that I will make sure that her concerns are addressed. It seems such a simple thing to do. But look at how pride would not let me take responsibility for being wrong, for putting a colleague out, for admitting I was somehow at fault.
This sort of incident is not stand-alone but reveals a character fault that runs right through all of my interactions with all sorts of people. For whatever reason, I am adverse, allergic even, to being perceived as being in the wrong. My participation in Lent allows my behavior to come to the surface of my attention (rather than being pressed to the margins of unthinking behavior), allows me the opportunity to own it, acknowledge it and change it. I wrote a note to my colleague this morning telling my colleague that I was the one who had left the machines in such a state (as if she didn’t already know…), that I would make sure this didn’t happen again, and then I thanked her for bringing it to my attention. It makes no sense why this was so hard. Except that I stand here at the faultline between sin and Christ-likeness. And it’s a faultline that runs through every thought, every word and every action. And it doesn’t take much to make the ground shake, even violently. This sort of thing seems to happen in every heart that Christ claims, in every heart that begins with halting steps to take repentance seriously. Or to revert to my former metaphor, the weather sure is crazy this time of year.