Faithful living: Remembering the purpose of Lent

The kids leaned forward with curiosity as my husband set out various study skins, skulls, and taxidermied animals for the class of fourth-graders to examine and learn about animals and the environment. As each specimen was placed on the table, “oohs” and “aahs” began to fill the room and the excitement grew.

So did the storytelling.

“My grandma has a fur coat,” one child commented.

“We were walking on the beach one day and found something dead and it really smelled,” another student related from the back of the room.

“Once, when we were camping,” another student began, “this lady took her cat out of her motor home and the dog in the next campsite raced over to the cat and ...”

“OK everyone,” my husband quickly interjected to save them all from gory details he was certain were about to be related. “Let’s phrase our comments in the form of questions you may have about what you’re seeing on the table before you.”

Matt’s quick glance — the one that silently relayed to me, “Dodged that bullet!” — said it all.

The adventure had begun.

And so it was that the morning progressed in ways this biologist — who welcomes the chance to occasionally step away from office paperwork and spend time in a classroom filled with kids — loves as he began to demonstrate the secrets that skins and skulls reveal when you learn what to look for.

Matt had a feeling this presentation had the potential to be special, for sitting quietly to the side of the group and taking in the excited voices was a child born without the benefit of sight. Nonetheless, she was as engaged as all her classmates, for a look of concentration and interest was written across her face.

After introducing a number of mammals, it was a stuffed barn owl that caused this student to shoot up her hand and wiggle with excitement. “I hear them in my backyard at night!” she exclaimed for all to hear.

Realizing she could not enjoy the owl’s beauty in the same way as her classmates, Matt picked up the owl and crouched down in front of her. “Give it a good feel,” he encouraged, “I think you’ll like the way it feels and you can’t hurt it by touching it.”

Out stretched her little hands but in a surprising move, it was his face and not the owl she reached for. Starting at his forehead and working down the bridge of his nose she moved. When she got to his big, bushy mustache she pulled her hands away in surprise and giggled.

“You can’t hurt that mustache either,” he playfully assured her. After the two were adequately introduced, she moved on to investigate the owl with the same thoroughness.

“I’ll never forget watching her feel every part of that owl,” Matt reminisced the other day, “but the best part was her reaction.” As her classmates intently looked on, a huge smile brightened her face.

“I see it!” she exclaimed.

It is this most precious girl who has touched me this week, as I continue to challenge myself to experience this Lenten season — the 40 days leading to Easter — with enthusiasm. Now in my mid-40s, I have contemplated Lent over the years with various responses. This year I want to make it personal and lead to something tangible.

I don’t want to miss it — the life God says can be ours if we invite Him to teach us, then show us how to respond in ways that will reflect our personal growth and His love to those around us.

There are more than a few distractions. I walked down an Easter décor aisle the other day at a department store and hurried out as fast as I could. The thought of bringing some of the items into my house this year seemed to clutter and distract me from my goals. Pretty, cute, inviting — yes! Missing the mark? Indeed. Rather than adding to my collection, I thought about adding guests to our Easter dinner table, instead. Rather than focusing on accumulating more stuff, I thought about building relationships.

In this busy life we each lead, the distractions are not only marketed to us but come part and parcel with the demands of living a responsible life. Taxes are due in the near future. Our kids have activities that deserve our attention and time. We have family members and friends who long for our support. There are school assignments and exercise to be done. Houses and cars are in need of our attention. Supervisors have goals that can’t be met without our input.

How often do we feel so scheduled we conclude that it’s impossible to set aside time to plan on making Lent noteworthy and deeply instructive?

And yet, if we make some small, workable adjustments to our schedules — if we ask God for energy and enthusiasm and insight, and if we use those moments with God to focus on His sacrifice and profound love — we begin to catch the vision.

We begin to see Him.

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