Column: Don’t hide what Lent reveals

by Father Mark Goldasich

Sometimes things just don’t turn out as you expect.

One day a well-to-do father took his son on a trip to the country with the intention of showing his son how poor people live. He hoped it would make the son grateful for the easy life he had. The man and his son spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of people who would be considered very poor.

On their return trip, the father asked his son, “Did you see how those people live? What did you learn from our trip?”

The son answered, “Well, I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.”

Taking a little breath, the son continued, “We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, but they have friends to protect them.”

The boy’s father was speechless, especially after his son added enthusiastically, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are!” (Adapted from an e-mail; author unknown.)

I’m sure that’s not the lesson the wealthy father intended for his son. But life is sometimes like that: Things are not what they seem. The same can be said for Lent.

Although I’ve been fairly good about watching less TV this Lent — one of my “fasting” resolutions — I’ve ended up spending much of that “saved” time in front of my computer screen. I downloaded a little game and it’s got its hooks into me.

The game is called, “Little Shop – Big City.” Essentially, it’s just a modern update of a game that I loved as a kid: hidden pictures. In the old days, this type of puzzle would feature a common scene — say, of a kitchen — drawn on a page. When you looked closer, however, you began to notice that there were all sorts of unusual items “hiding” in that ordinary-looking kitchen. There would often be a list of these cleverly disguised items and you would spend an entertaining time peering into the picture to uncover them.

That’s essentially what “Little Shop – Big City” is all about. However, the scenes on the computer are much more elaborate and colorful . . . and the items are much harder (for these older eyes, anyway) to spot. Let’s just say I’ve spent way too many minutes this Lent blissfully staring at my computer screen hunting down buttons, blue suede shoes, sock monkeys, pine cones, gnomes, statues of the Eiffel Tower and The Thinker, tire pumps and hundreds of other objects.

In these puzzles, the first thing you see is a crowded, cluttered, chaotic mess. By careful detective work, though, you begin to discover the treasures hidden within the junk. That, actually, is not a bad description of Lent.

In these days, we sift through all of the chaos and clutter of our lives to become more intensely aware of what’s hidden there. Some people believe that the focus of Lent is solely on discovering how “evil” or sinful we really are. True, when we strip away our masks, we may not like the person that ends up staring back at us.

There’s another side to Lent, however: It’s more about our goodness than our sinfulness. Amid all of the junk of our sins, so to speak, are hidden treasures. For example, our Lenten disciplines may help us to see in our hearts a true compassion for others, or a generosity in responding to the needs of those around us, or a commitment to a simpler, less materialistic life. We discover that when we give God’s grace a chance, we can change for the better.

As a side note, “Little Shop” has a “blitz mode,” where players race against the clock to find all the hidden objects in a scene. Right before writing this article — in the name of research, naturally — I played a round in blitz mode and found 89 hidden objects in a little over 10 minutes. When I went to post my “excellent” score online, it was 146th on the list. The top spot was held by “zig,” who found those same 89 objects in a minute and a half!

It just goes to show that, like the little boy in the story, younger people (as I assume “zig” is) are often much better and quicker about seeing the treasures than us older people.

This week look for the blessings hidden in your Lenten disciplines. And if your eyes need a little help, why not ask for some from the younger generation? They’ll call ‘em like they see ‘em — but at least they can see ‘em!

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