I was approaching my 21st birthday, a new college graduate, and desperately in love with my ex-boyfriend who was discerning a vocation to the priesthood and had been for nearly two years. Despite the obvious nudge on my heart to utilize Lent as a spiritual opportunity to let the guy go wear his cassock and part his hair in the silliest looking severe side part you ever did see, I continued to pine, to lament, to complain ad nauseam. Underneath the incessant chatter was a deep fear. If God had called him, if the priesthood made him happy, if that is what he was made for, what would happen to me? But instead of tackling that load of heavy, I approached Lent insistent that 2007 would in fact be the year I succeeded in 40 days of fasting from my real addiction: Chocolate. Specifically, dark chocolate salted caramels.
A few days into Lent, my cravings were worse than I expected. Ghirardelli seemed like it was everywhere, so I met a friend to lament about Lent and complained some more about how terrible it felt to have the hots for a potential priest. And then she said, “What you are doing is not love, and I’m tired of listening to it. If you really love him, you would want him to find God’s will, even if you aren’t part of it.”
It was unsolicited advice coming in hotter than a hot fudge lava cake straight out of the oven.
I was mad, and down a coping mechanism. With no fudge to drown in, I took her words in front of the Eucharist, and cried. She was right. I did not want her to remain right. And so began the year I gave up Jim for Lent.
It was hard. I failed a lot, usually daily. Little by little though, chocolate chip by M&M, the act of redirecting my thoughts towards God’s will for Jim and not mine, did not get easier. It did, however, grow in peace, and trusting God all the way deep down became more real, more felt, more of an owned desire. As Good Friday approached, I knew a little bit more about love as sacrifice. Fasting from sweet treats remained torturous.
Easter morning came bright and beautiful and around the time I savored my 27th Cadbury egg, my sister called to say, “I have to talk with you about Jim.” Ready to rumble and remind her of all of my spiritual hard work I began to bite back. Before I could berate her though, she uttered the most glorious sentence I had ever heard, “Jim is coming home on Friday. He is not becoming a priest.”
Not only was God not skipping me, He was preparing something beautiful, and he was doing it with a bit of a liturgical season dramatic flare. Months later I would learn that Jim decided he would come home before Lent, but thought 40 more days prayerful preparation might make him a better husband some day. (The privilege of being married for 11 years is that I now get to consider that detail less romantic than it is annoying, because seriously, you could have just texted.)
Every year as I rattle my brain to come up with the perfect Lenten sacrifice, I think back to that moment I found out he was coming home, the rush of understanding, being overcome with the grace of knowing God is always there, in each and every day that Jim and I spent apart, and in all of the days we would get to spend together. How much of an effort God makes to roll away the stone blocking my heart from His. It helps to remember to not pursue perfection, to settle down from the sacrifices, so as to settle into the season of learning what it means to love.