Four years ago, I was in the middle of a rocky phase of life. I was moving apartments, there were major changes at my workplace, and a priest who kept me sane was suddenly transferred to another mission. There was change in my personal world, my work world, and my spiritual world. Lent was still several weeks away, but I felt like I was already living it.
During those days, I realized that while I often prayed “Your will be done,” I really didn’t trust Him. It was a prayer far easier to say than to live.
Just when I thought I couldn’t deal with any more change, two days before Lent began Pope Benedict announced his resignation. I almost laughed at the absurdity through my tears that day. Was this really happening? I thought January had been full of change… now I was even losing my Pope?
I had been in St. Peter’s Square for Benedict’s election and again for his installation. In the eight years of his papacy, I had devoured every word and followed every trip. I had a Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club mug years before he was even elected. If there had been one thing I thought would be free from change at that moment, it was the universal Church. Boy, was I wrong.
I learned that Lent about control and sacrifice. Ultimately, I learned that I liked to control my sacrifices! I can give up chocolate, not eat between meals, or turn off technology. These things may really help me grow in the spiritual life. But while there is a lot of good in self-imposed sacrifice and it can be pretty difficult, I’m usually far more willing to impose sacrifice on myself than to accept the crosses I’m given.
If only I could barter with God: “Um, thanks, God, but I don’t really want what is happening in my life right now. How about I fast tomorrow instead? Thanks.” Needless to say, that isn’t the way it works. In the end, the best sacrifices are the ones that we don’t need to seek out and are already being asked of us. Rather than running away from them, it’s time to pick up our crosses and follow His lead.
Scripture repeatedly reminds us, “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, “Behold I come.” (Psalm 40, as in the liturgy). It is not that God doesn’t want our sacrifices, but that He wants our obedience more. The book of Hebrews applies these words to Christ Himself. Christ gave the ultimate and perfect sacrifice, but what was pleasing to the Father was His perfect obedience in that sacrifice (Hebrews 10:5-9).
The greatest gift we can give God is obedience, and the hardest time to tell him, “Behold, I come,” is when that obedience requires our childlike trust.
Perhaps the greatest sacrifice we make this Lent is not one we choose for ourselves, but one that is found by humbly accepting the crosses that come into our lives every day. God knew I needed to learn how to trust Him that Lent. And while I still struggle with it, I know those months helped me learn an important lesson: when all feels shaky around you, your cross is actually the safest and most stable place to grip – because Christ is holding it too.