(Lent starts with Ash Wednesday on February 10. This was first published February 17, 2014)
We hadn’t talked for awhile. We met for coffee. We placed our orders and went to the end of the counter to wait.
“Should I celebrate Lent?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Are you satisfied with your relationship with God?”
He looked startled. I felt a little queasy.
“Who is? But what’s that got to do with Lent?”
We got our coffee and sat down. It gave me time to think. I usually am more diplomatic. I started writing about Lent for the people who kept Lent, to give them a different way to think. I never really thought about recommending the practice of Lent to others. And my friend was one of the others. He grew up in a non-Lent home. He’s not sure why I’m so interested.
We settled down at a table in the corner.
“Will celebrating Lent make God happy?” he asked.
“Will it make Him like me more?”
“Will it build up some kind of credit or a reservoir of good will? So that when I screw up the next time, I can say ‘But I was really good during Lent?”
He was mostly joking. But I saw a way to start talking.
“Does that work with your wife?” I asked. “Does that work with any other relationship that really matters to you? That you are nice so you can get away with stuff?”
He smiled. “Well, I try it with my boss. But when I try it with my friends, they know better. They can see right through me.”
“But you try it, right? You get real nice for a couple of days? You pick up the check for lunch?”
“Sometimes. But then they look at me. And we laugh. And then they ask me what I really need help with. And I quit trying to impress them. I turn off everything else and we talk.”
I sat quietly.
“So Lent isn’t about impressing God, it’s about talking and listening?”