Choosing the Stick
My friend Linda MacDonald lived across the street from me when we were seven years old. She had four sisters, all of them daring and adventurous. And they were stubborn, which resulted in frequent fighting. When battles moved from nasty looks and ugly faces to kicking and hitting, one of the parents would step in to separate the main combatants. If the fight continued, the word came down: you’ve earned a beating. Then the offenders were sent outside to choose the stick they would be beaten with.
Linda usually chose the smallest stick she could find, sometimes no bigger than a pine needle. Her sister Brenda went for a big, rotten one – hard to lift and falling apart with the least movement. Cindy refused to choose most times; she just sat on the back steps weeping and gnashing her teeth. The older sisters just strolled around the yard the whole time with a peace which surpassed my understanding.
Choosing the stick we get beaten with is how many of us experience Lent. Subtracting chocolate or swearing, adding daily exercise and volunteer hours – sticks come in many sizes and shapes. For the fights we started with others and the many ways we have misbehaved, we find ourselves in the yard picking up sticks. Let the punishment fit the crime.
So what happened to the MacDonalds after they chose a stick? Nothing. There was no beating. The real purpose of choosing a stick: time to calm down and stop the hurtful fighting. Ironic, really – choosing a stick didn’t lead to a beating, it ended one. The older sisters had already figured that out and spent the time in peace. I wasn’t around to see the younger ones catch on, but I’m sure they did.
If I’m spending Lent choosing a stick, perhaps even going further and beating myself with it, I’m missing the point. Lent is the time to stop the everyday beatings. Whatever faithful practices I choose to add or harmful vices I subtract are just what gets me into the yard – a place to disengage from aggression and engage in peace. Once I figure that out, yard time is a joy; until I do, it feels a lot like picking out a stick.
The Eight Bad Thoughts and the Fruits of the Spirit will be the focus of my Lenten meditations, leading into Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Something to keep in mind: human violence put Jesus on the cross, not God. No beating from God awaits, just the chance to stop fighting with our siblings.