Lead article from the March 2018 bulletin, online now.
I tend to struggle with the Lenten tradition of giving up some perceived vice or indulgence in order to suffer to some extent as we consider the profound suffering of Christ in the time leading up to His passion. I will of course follow all the Lenten rules. I also have much admiration for those who give up significant habits and routines so as to draw them closer to our Savior's suffering.
I have given up things in past Lenten seasons only to feel underwhelmed about my sacrifice as I resume them after Easter Sunday. Did I suffer much? Nope. Did it bring me closer to understanding His suffering? Not really. So what should I do?
I may have had some small revelation in this regard on our recent trip to Florida. We were staying at a Daytona beach hotel. Hotel guests were venturing out to the beach to see the strange family who were swimming alone in 65-degree cloudy-skies weather. They came wearing parkas and took our pictures and asked us where we came from that we would be swimming on this day. We told them and a look of "Oh, I get it now" came over their faces. We hit the hot tub for a bit then decided to walk downtown where we could see a boardwalk and amusement park waiting for our arrival.
There were some Hurricane Irma-ravaged hotels along the beach as we made our way, a few lined with fence and under repair and others seemingly abandoned. We noticed that the homeless were taking up residence in some of the lower floors of the abandoned buildings. Makeshift homes consisting of wood, cardboard, worn mattresses and the like. A young couple caught our attention as they moved a mattress out of the chill drizzle that was falling at the time. They were in the middle of a heated, obscenity-laced exchange about some grievance between them. There were many homeless along our way. Their deeply lined faces spoke to the nature of the untold witness they held from us. We made it downtown, and the homeless quickly slipped from our minds.
We had much fun looking at shops, walked the pier and listened to the Atlantic. We had a great meal and started back. My youngest noticed a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream shop and grabbed my arm. We made progress across the street via skyway where a vagrant was taking some rest. As we approached our destination, a tall, thin, elderly, homeless black man was speaking to each passerby with his head down. I grabbed my eldest daughter and shifted her to my left as we neared the tall man on my right. I could barely hear him speak as we passed: "Could you please buy me some food, good sir?" We hustled our step as we passed him a glance.
My eldest told me that he looked hungry. I mentioned some nonsense about his life choices, and we joined the line at Baskin-Robbins. We were waiting about a minute for our 1,000-calorie indulgence when the brick fell upon my head. I looked at Marina and told her that she was spot on. He did look hungry. We bolted out and found the same tall black homeless man making his way down the sidewalk. When the distance was made up my daughter ask him if he was hungry still. He affirmed this, and we crossed the street to the Burger King restaurant.
Marina then bought him a meal with a $20 bill and gave him the change. We could barely hear him say as we left, "God bless you." I think it's more likely that God dropped the brick on my head than blessed me. What value was the cash to me? Very likely much less than it was to him. What did he give up for Lent? What did the homeless couple moving the mattress out of the rain give up for Lent? Unknowable. Here is what I am going to give up for this Lent. I am going to give up making assumptions about homeless folks. I am going to give up judging them. I am going to give up donating nothing to their empty pockets. Hopefully it will continue long past Easter.
I will end by quoting our new homeless and hungry friend: God Bless.