*Writer's note: Today marks the beginning of Lent. Forgive me for posting this story again (for those who have read it), but it just fits. "I love you."
My wife's words pierced through the silence. I looked over at Gabby in the passenger seat. She was smiling and looking me in the eye.
“I love you, too!”
My mind had been racing. Jumping from “What should we eat for dinner?” to “How should I redesign my company website?” to “Who wrote the 80’s classic ‘Safety Dance?’” Gabby’s unsolicited, unexpected words of affection brought me back to reality. I smiled at her.
A few miles down the road, she said it again.
“I love you.”
I stared at her, keeping both hands on the wheel.
“I love you, too!” I glanced up and corrected my steering, coming back into the passing lane.
“No. I really love you,” she said. With feeling.
I reached across the console and grabbed her hand. We continued our drive to church, connected in silence. I felt a deep sense of joy for our relationship.
And so it went for several weeks. Three simple words, “I love you.” Spoken as frequently as one might say “put on your shoes” to a four-year-old prior to leaving the house. It's not that we don't regularly communicate our appreciation for one another, but Gabby showered me with an avalanche of affectionate words, and I was happily buried.
Then came Easter.
On our way home from church, Gabby turned to me and asked,
“So, do you want to know what I gave up for Lent?”
“I never told you what I gave up for Lent. The past forty days. Do you want to know what it was?”
“Well,” she hesitated.
“You know how I always criticize your driving?”
“Yes.” I muttered.
“Well. For Lent, every time I wanted to comment about your speeding, or not signaling, or whatever else, I decided to say ‘I love you’ instead.”
I nearly rear-ended the Toyota immediately in front of us.
To this day, anytime Gabby says “I love you,” my first response is to scream,
“Driving on the shoulder is perfectly acceptable in 43 of the 50 states!”
And we don’t even have to be in the car.
Only kidding, of course. It really has changed our relationship in the car.
As we enter another Lenten season, we church-goers are looking for something significant to give up for Lent. It’s our Christian ritual. Like marking our forehead with ashes to publicly signify our commitment to follow the path that Christ set before us. Repentance and sacrifice.
So, what will you give up? Sweets? Reality TV shows? Facebook?
Last year, I got a vasectomy.
Too drastic, you say?
Gabby had it right. Lent is less about “what” you choose to sacrifice, and more about “why” you choose to sacrifice. For my wife, she realized a simple behavior was getting in the way of genuinely connecting with someone important to her. And in forty days, she built a lasting habit that is paying dividends to this day.
Too often, Lent becomes an exercise in delayed gratification. We choose to deny ourselves of something we love so that we can truly appreciate it when we have it once again at Easter. And, there is a certain spiritual truth in that. On the Earth, we can get disconnected from all things God. And one day, God willing, we’ll get to ride that grand escalator to the sky where we finally meet our Creator and feel the amazing embrace.
I’m sure it’ll feel just like having your first Pop Tart after going carb-free for six weeks.
But it’s so much more than delayed gratification. Lent is a time of pruning. Cutting away the shoots that have grown over time. The ones that clutter, and choke, and prevent healthy growth here on Earth.
So we can feed and care for the branches that really matter.
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