I like to be comfortable. I mean, who doesn’t? I like my soft bed, my temperature-controlled living and working environments, my three square meals per day, my chocolate, my morning coffee, my warm showers, my sweatpants, my living room couch, my nice-smelling candles, my gentle music…I seek comfort. I get resentful, panicky, or sad when I learn that one of my pet comforts may not be available to me on a given day…and heaven forbid any one of them should ever be taken away altogether. (Would life actually be worth living without chocolate? It bears thinking about.)
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought this week, because–you guessed it–Lent is just around the corner. I’m beginning the mental preparation process now: pep talks, stern warnings, scoldings, that sort of thing. (A lifetime without chocolate probably wouldn’t be all that worthwhile, but I can make it 40 days. Right?) I used to think I’d be really good at Lent when I got older. I’d be holier then, that’s what I thought. But somehow or other Lent actually gets harder every year. I get more and more entrenched in my silly little creature comforts, to the point that giving them up feels like invasive surgery.
Here’s a rough sketch of what your humble blogger looks like on Ash Wednesday:
But praise God for his mercy. In the midst of my dread (and I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s real dread. Lent: the season of discomfort, and worse than that, the humiliation that inevitably follows on being brought nose-to-nose with all my weaknesses and bad tendencies. You mean I’m not perfect yet?? What more can I possibly have to do?), he gives me such hope. And today as I reflected and prayed about Lent, about what I should give up, about how I can possibly work on being a saint when the idea of 40 days without chocolate has me in the fetal position, he gave me a clear answer, contained in three words: Duc in altum.
Put out into the deep.
Just get into the boat and shove off. Let go of the shoreline. It’s so easy to climb into the boat after him while it’s still tied up at the dock: as soon as things get unpleasant (those wooden seats are so hard…I’m feeling a little seasick…I have to go to the bathroom…) or scary (big waves…sharks…) I can get out, go back to land, get comfortable again. Maybe, if it’s a really nice day, we can go for a little sail, within sight of the beach of course, as long as we don’t go too far. But that’s not enough. It’s only half an answer to his invitation. He doesn’t want us to sit at the dock, but to embark on the full voyage.
Put out into the deep.
That’s what Lent is for: letting go of that safe, comfortable shoreline, sitting tight in the boat, and casting off. And doing it with joy. As St. Jose Maria Escriva writes, “Put out into deep water! Throw aside the pessimism that makes a coward of you.” That’s my prayer this Lent, for all of us: that we might follow Christ to Calvary, and discover the mysterious and awful joy of the cross that has won our salvation.