“Lent is a marathon, not a sprint,” my pastor said during his homily on Sunday, as I strongly resisted the urge to roll my eyes. You’ll excuse me if I nearly gave into this most grievous sign of boredom in the Lord’s House, but as someone who’s worked as a sports writer for the better part of his adult life, I’m more than familiar with the cliché, and I’m not a fan.
Forget that it’s used every time a team demolishes an opponent during week one of the regular season — or whenever a pitcher strikes out the side to begin the game — but the cliché is so tired and worn-out that even a freelance, can’t-get-a-job-in-writing-to-save-my-life journalist like me refuses to employ it.
But here was our priest making the cardinal sin (no pun intended) in dynamic metaphor. No way this homily was going to leave a lasting and life-inspiring message, I thought to myself. Might as well check out what’s going on in the bulletin for this week…
Oh yee of little faith, how you give up so easily.
The message, in case you haven’t been able to extrapolate, is that life, and faith, require a degree of patience that’s almost unfathomable to accept in our twitter-crazed, on-demand world. The growth of an individual’s spiritually through Lent — a period of 40 days of introspective discipline and hopefully sacrifice – is beyond the scope of the first few days, and not something we can easily proclaim won or loss after a week. Father Matt’s message was simple, his metaphor straightforward. Fall off the bandwagon and accidentally eat a steak last Friday? It’s not like you’re going to hell, just try to remember all the harder next week. Already drop a few F-bombs in front of your kids after resolving not to? Take a hint from a former curser and start saying “fudge muffin” from now on, and once more, go play catch with little Tommy and Jane! The point is that getting discouraged and giving up on something as spiritually worthy as trying to take a less of a me attitude and more of an others attitude is not worth it. The great thing about being a Christian is that screwing up does not preclude you from membership in God’s Grace, and it sure doesn’t mean growth and purpose can’t be found.
Like a lot of spiritual aspects, I find this particular dynamic to have merit for those who don’t even consider themselves particularly spiritual or religious. It comes at an especially important time for me and I think for a lot of young people, as the economic struggles of our country have the all too telling ability to deprive us of the one thing we all want, and need. Hope.
I can’t tell you how many job applications I’ve filled out over the past few weeks, but I can tell you exactly how many of the jobs have hired me: zilch. From Sports Information internships to government jobs as a historian (heck, even a gate attendant at a National Park) my list of ”thanks, but no thanks,” runs like a government expense sheet. This was not, to quote the poet T.S. Eliot, the “long looked forward to” of a college degree and several years of journalistic experience. I’ve been getting especially frustrated as of late, for some reason thinking that if I don’t find really solid, career-oriented work within the next few weeks, I’m suddenly destined to become an also-ran in society. The perpetual sinner, the unsaved, redeemable human spark, if you will.
I need not look at this period of my life as a sprint, just as those in my position (and we are many) need not either. It’s a marathon. A long – oftentimes boring, sometimes painful, other times exhilarating – marathon. Just as any period or trial in any individual’s life can be viewed through the lens of a short burst of highs or lows, so I’ve given into thinking that who I am as a person and as a member of society is subject to the past two months. But as Father Matt reminded me with his cliché, that’s far from the case. God, and life, have more in store for all of us than the first week of our individual “Lents.” Our identity as a believer or a worker or a father isn’t accountable to our short-term success or failure, but rather to our desire, personal accountability, and continued vigilance in our task. As we make our way through Lent or whatever period of our lives we are in, we remember that it’s O.K. to stop and tie our shoes if we need to, and to press on at a slow and steady pace. We may not see the finish line, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Faith, like the young man’s career search, is the perpetual marathon. And as any runner will tell you, those are the kinds of races worth running.