It had been a while since I’d done a thorough cleaning of my home. I spent the good part of a day mopping, dusting, vacuuming, and moving furniture around to get into the deepest crevices. What always occurs to me, when I do these rare thorough cleanings, is the extent to which I can overlook significant dust and dirt build-up in my daily life.
Usually I am motivated by something outside myself, an upcoming overnight guest, a dinner party, to give my house a better cleaning than usual. You would think after all these years of living, I would establish a system.
When I finally finish, and my home is clean, I try to remain vigilant to prevent obvious spills and messes. But over time, the dust and grime will build. I will not notice it again until I force myself to do another thorough cleaning.
My housecleaning experience could be a metaphor for the spiritual life as well. It’s easy to go days without looking beneath the surface. We have a routine, and it includes prayer and worship and service, but it doesn’t require any thorough examination. We do what we do, almost out of habit.
Yet when something outside of ourselves motivates us to look more deeply, we may be surprised to see that some areas of our life have been neglected to the point they are escalating in dangerous ways.
Perhaps we have taken on too many tasks, and we are building up resentment. We may not know why we are so angry, but we know that we feel under-appreciated and over-worked.
Perhaps we have neglected a wound in our hearts that we thought would heal on its own. Yet we discover, only too late, that the wound has festered and grown toxic to our spiritual health.
Perhaps we have taken someone or something for granted. By not tending to a relationship or showing gratitude for good fortune, we are prone to selfishness.
Perhaps we developed a routine of service actions that feed our own egos, yet overlook the true needs of our brothers and sisters.
Lent provides the ideal motivation for that thorough cleaning. We can examine our hearts and actions to reveal the spiritual grime we have allowed to build up.
Sometimes that motivation is in the form of penance services or individual confession. Sometimes that motivation comes from attending a Lenten Mission or the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Other times, Lent brings its own spiritual reckoning. A colleague in ministry with whom I worked once said, “Lent takes care of itself.” Many seasons of Lent in my life have included spiritual and material trials I had not anticipated.
Often, it’s those kinds of trials that cause me to re-evaluate my Christian journey. Some years during Lent, I am forced to carry crosses I want to avoid. I don’t believe that God gives me these burdens. But I believe that God gives me the grace to carry them and learn from them and ultimately rise from them.
This Lent, my reckoning came in a conversation I had with a minister of another denomination. I confessed to him my anger and resentment toward those who seem to have not recognized the burdens on the backs of God’s poor and marginalized. This minister, a black man, showed such empathy for all people, including those whom I resent, that I was startled. His posture was not defensive or attacking. He simply expressed understanding of the other’s point of view.
His hope in our having the conversation we did was that we may all come to the table and better understand one another. Our initial meeting had been to express his support for our parish Latino community in this time of trial. The conclusion we drew from our conversation was that we need to have more dialogue among all races and walks of life.
Before meeting this pastor, I had known that I was sinfully harboring resentment toward some. I struggled to balance my desire to act justly and in solidarity with the poor and marginalized while showing charity to everyone – including those who seem unaware or unconcerned about how their actions have impacted the most vulnerable of God’s people. But nothing good ever comes from resentment.
My Lenten journey this year includes taking stock of how I’ve allowed resentment to build, and how I’ve closed my eyes to the grime in my own heart. May this new awareness allow God’s grace to heal me so I can be a more effective and loving disciple.
Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.