Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart for I am gracious and merciful. – Joel 2:12-13
More than two weeks ago, our daughter Clare came home from preschool with a shoebox full of “kindness notes” (also known as Valentines). For two weeks, she has been carrying the box around, taking all the cards out to study over and over again. “This one is from Ella. She is my friend.” “Whose name is on this one? Who drew this?” She has relived memories and recounted stories that we have never heard about school and her friends. I keep expecting her interest to wane. But these little scraps of paper have brought her hours of enjoyment.
St. Ignatius tells us to return to Scripture passages and experiences of prayer that are fruitful, so that we might gain even more wisdom from them. Particularly in times of desolation, he instructs us to relive those moments where we felt God’s nearness most profoundly. Over the past few weeks, I have continued to be struck by this image of Clare carefully examining her Valentines as if they are precious gifts. In her own intuitive child-like way, she is doing exactly what St. Ignatius has instructed.
But now we are in Lent and today’s readings are a harsh wake up call to the Ninevites as well as the crowd gathered around Jesus. They are being warned of the consequences of ignoring the commandment, but also of the unimaginable mercy of God. Sometimes we feel as lost as the Ninevites and as clueless at deciphering the Gospel as the early disciples. I question what my small Lenten sacrifices really mean. Will eating less chocolate really return my heart to God? Will my resolve to react less and speak kinder really make any difference? Today I feel like the same old me, with the same old flaws.
I hold the image of Clare’s sacred Valentines in contrast with the seemingly distant God in the readings. Instead of imagining God somewhere off in the distance, judging my worth, I imagine God sitting beside me at the kitchen table. Together, we open the treasure chest of my prayers and good intentions. We relive the highlights and key moments. The things in need of further healing, we put aside to look at another time. The ones that bring deep peace and joy, we return to the box to enjoy over and over again. We tend to think about redemption as a linear process. Our prayer and our faithfulness hopefully improve over time; but in reality our relationship with God goes through highs and lows, more fruitful times as well as dryer times.
No matter where I am today, the invitation from God remains: return to me with your whole heart. The whole heart that is bruised and broken; the whole heart that has complex reactions to people. Any Lenten commitment to prayer, fasting, or giving is simply a help on this journey of return. I am comforted that God does not care whether our last “Valentines Day” together was two weeks, two years, or two decades ago. If I genuinely desire a deeper relationship with God, I trust that He will accept my humble offering fully.
Suggestion for prayer:
1. Take out crayons, colored pencils or markers.
2. Imagine what note God might leave in your treasure box.
3. What note might you write Jesus in return?