In the darkness of a winter morning some years ago, a young man crouched in the entry of a building on the grounds of the Kansas School for the Blind where my wife taught. When she entered, he knocked her to the ground, grabbed her purse and violently ripped off a gold necklace I had given her.
By the time I got to her, she had already spoken with the police but she was bruised, fearful and angry. Never the less, I was about to learn a lesson from her that seems especially appropriate on this Ash Wednesday.
Weeks later she got a small insurance settlement. The day it arrived we went to a Michael’s crafts store. Not for crafts but for redemption.
Sharon said she was so angry at the young man who robbed her, so upset that she had lost that particular necklace, and felt so violated that the only way to move past those feelings was to give them up. The toxic mix of anger, victimization and loss were taking a piece of her soul.
She took the insurance payment and used it to buy each child in the school a teddy bear. So here we stood in Michael’s packing two hundred bears in boxes.
And you know what happened? We had a ball! We forgot the robbery, the anger and the fear. We laughed. We teased the manager of the store. She had as much fun as we did.
We found ourselves by giving away those hurt, angry feelings. What mattered was imagining the joy we hoped the children would experience. What mattered was getting outside ourselves and focusing on others.
It’s a small story, not the whole story of Lent. Lent is about faithfulness and discipleship. Jesus said we find ourselves by giving, not by getting. His call is more profound than giving teddy bears. He called us to take on the yoke of servanthood. He even said those who give up their lives will save their lives, and those who seek their lives, who can’t get outside of themselves, will lose them.
The paradox of servanthood is that by living sacrificially we find life and we are made more whole. And his promise is that we will come to know the self-giving love of God which can’t be taken from us, neither fails nor rusts but is incorruptible and endures forever.