Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Small Tire Reveals We are Still a Little Off Kilter

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

Right after the start of Lent last month, I was driving home from the Pastoral Center and found myself stopped behind a beautifully maintained older large sedan in the left lane, the kind our grandfathers loved.  The car had clearly been well kept, very clean and the tan paint job, while not new, was waxed to glossy shine both on the body and the chrome appendages.  As I was admiring all the wonderful qualities of this older, well-preserved road boat, the light changed and it drove on ahead. I then noticed it was moving a little off kilter.  When we got to the next light, my curiosity got the best of me so I changed lanes and slowly drove up next to the old beauty in the right lane.  As I passed up the passenger side of the vehicle I saw why the car was off-kilter – the passenger back tire was smaller than the other three on the car.  It was not a “donut” spare but was a regular tire, with the same wire wheel cover as the other tires. Unfortunately, it was a size or two too small!  I guessed that this small tire was the best the owners could afford in our current economy.

Over the past couple of weeks I have thought about that car and the contrast of its well maintained exterior with its uneven wheels.  It occurred to me that for many of us this off-kilter drive describes our experience of ourselves this Lent. I imagine a lot us entered Lent with some well-intentioned plans to make this year count for us.  We would give up, add on and even sacrifice to have some benefit like losing weight and getting healthy.   As with that big tan sedan, we would use Lent to clean up our act, letting go of something that can harm or hurt us so we could look and feel good again. Yet if we or someone takes a moment to look a little closely, they would probably notice our journey is a little off-kilter. We still move with one tire too small.

One 20-something I know gives up drinking and smoking each Lent.  For him Lent is a kind of spiritual and physical detox though when I suggested he might keep the practice going beyond the Good Friday, he balked and said he already has plans for a very wet birthday celebration around Easter and I thought, “not including Vigil baptisms!”  I laughed thinking somehow we must have missed teaching him something important about the purpose of Lenten sacrifices when he was a kid.  Still an annual detox must be good for his soul in addition to his body.

All this got me thinking that God probably looks at us kind of like I looked at that car.  Admiring the good qualities, the gifts and talents He gave us and reveling in the shiny acts of sacrifice, service and kindness we do this time of year when we let the Spirit inspire us. Yet at the same time I am sure God sees what most us hope (pretend?) He and others won’t notice, that even though we are all “shined up” we are still a little off-kilter. All of us need more work to become who we are meant to be. On the fourth Sunday of Lent we hear from Ephesians just such a truth:

“You were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

So whether we use Lent to detox, lose weight or live a more prayerful, simple and generous life,  all of theses actions are still some “kind of goodness” and help us to be a bit more shiny, to walk (or drive) in the light.

For Reflection:

How have your Lenten practices affected you so far?  What still needs some adjustment so you can “walk in the light?”

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