Observing Lent was a family practice in the Foster home. On Saturday, allowance day, Keith and Alan each received one dollar. Ten percent of the dollar, one dime, went immediately into their Sunday School envelope except during Lent when two dimes were included in their Sunday offering. Desserts were a Sunday-only treat in their home; since Sunday was not a day in Lent, they didn’t give up sweets during Lent. Instead they added five minutes of quiet time to their evening prayers. Quiet time, Mrs. Foster told them, was special time with God. Quiet was a difficult task for both Alan and Keith. Each tried their best to get the other laughing and in trouble.
We are now ten days into our Lenten journey to Easter, a time experienced by some as a second chance to keep New Year’s resolutions. But Lent is more. Lent’s invitation is to reflect on redemption by identifying with Jesus’ life: a life that included pain, suffering and crucifixion.
Suffering is anathema to most. We avoid pain ourselves and too often turn from the suffering of others. Much as we wish it otherwise, suffering is the plight of many, and Lent asks us to look at suffering both within ourselves and in others. Suffering can make us either bitter or better.
Little did Alan know at the time, the imposed five minutes of quiet, severe suffering for an 8 year old, would introduce him to the suffering of others. The five minutes forced him to look beyond himself, and in doing so see the suffering of others. He also learned from Aesop, who wrote: “The injury we do and the one we suffer are not weighed in the same scales.”
As a kid Alan imagined his suffering was far worse than his brothers, his difficulties far greater, his challenges far exceeding Keith’s. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, injuries are seen differently depending on one’s perspective: the one injured or the one observing.
I suspect we are all like Alan. It’s easier to believe my challenges, my difficulties, my troubles are worse than yours. During these 40 days of Lent we are called upon to look with empathy on the suffering of another. A friend may have experienced death of a friend or family member, may have lost a job, is facing medical problems, is living with disappointment or betrayal.
Louis Armstrong sings our song “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, Oh yes, Lord, Sometimes I’m almost to the ground, Oh yes, Lord, Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, Nobody knows but Jesus.”
May we open our eyes during these 40 days of Lent not just to our own suffering, our own troubles, but to the suffering and troubles of others. May each of us be the eyes of Jesus, finding within empathy toward another’s pain, suffering and troubles, empathy that will turn to care, help and service.