Remember Aesop’s fable about a tortoise and a hare? In that old story we see how slow and steady gets you where you need to be. This is a good thing to remember now that Lent has begun… We got our ashes, and we have made our commitments to God and to ourselves. Everything often seems great as we start out, full of desire to please God.
For some of us, and I can remember many a Lent that began this way for me, we set goals as if we are an athlete preparing for the Olympics. Living in a metric-mad work, where measures and results mean everything, it is hard not to think about our faith that way. It is important that we do not see our faith that way at all, or worse yet, try to live it that way.
First – pacing. In the story you may recall that the hare seemed to have the advantage because he could sprint his way to victory. And sprint he did! So much so that swelled with pride and tired from his dashing ahead, he stopped to take a much-needed rest. This turned out to be a problem that all the speed in the world could not overcome. In the meantime, the tortoise kept going, step by step, further and further, with intent. Hare thought this was hilarious – to his disadvantage.
What do we think God calls us to? An 800-meter sprint or a marathon? Following Jesus into the desert is a long journey, so that pacing is essential to completion. Pacing does not mean not pushing hard and hurrying up, it is about how we push ourselves… and if we allow Jesus to accompany us. We are journeying with him, not to him.
Second – intent. What is the purpose of your Lent? Do you bring with you the gift of intention? I say gift because it is a gift from God, part of the grace showered upon us. If our intent is to be strong, to not give in, to prevail against temptation, to drive out our desires and be rid of them – well, forget that. I always like to think that the hare had the intent of winning because winning was a prize. Who does not want to be number one? The tortoise however, seemed to have the intention of completing the race.
What do we think God wishes of us? Speed? Prowess? Victory? Gold medals? I can’t help but think about how in our time-driven culture, we are preternaturally drawn to get it done, get it done now. Or maybe God seeks our companionship as part of the covenant that God made with us as his people… Companionship and deep relationship is a slow and steady journey that takes a lifetime. As I said – we are journeying with him, not to him.
Third – humility. The hare was so certain of itself. We are immersed in a world fueled by what is understood as self-confidence and independence. Be your own man or woman! Go it alone! You are a champion! The hare would fit right in if that were the idea behind Lent. We are actually called to be focused and dependent on God – as Jesus was in the desert when tempted. What do we think God hopes for us? Our dependence on God can be seen as a crutch by many. Even for those of us who are deeply committed to our faith, there is a streak in many of us that points ourselves back to ourselves. We imagine we are in charge. We believe – foolishly – that we can negotiate our own way. Yet, Jesus who relied on others seeks us to rely on him! Jesus is always with us. Everything we do is in response to him, to God, not the other way around. Once again, we are journeying with him, not to him.
Maybe this year we can enter this Lent (and it is never too late to begin) as if we are the tortoise. Low to the ground, possibly encased in a shell, slow moving – lumbering our way down the road. The temptation to be the hare is so strong, but the call of the Spirit is to look back at the tortoise not to mock, but to model ourselves upon. Slow and steady, whether it wins a race or not, is what will keep us connected to the Christ who gives us the strength and grace we need. If only we can remember that.
May your Lent be blessed.