I may have missed the point. I may be totally off base. I really have no idea. I’ve got a vague notion of what I was trying to accomplish and what impact I wanted it to have, but for the life of me, two weeks after Easter and the 40 (well, 47) day period before it known as Lent have passed and I still don’t know if totally botched it, hit the nail on the head, or somewhere in between. But before we can get to that, let’s go back to the beginning.
I’m not very good with Lent. I get the basic premise is to spend the 40 days before Easter giving up something you like/love/enjoy and that, in doing so, it’s supposed to remind you of God’s sacrifice or Jesus being tempted in the desert or maybe the Jews wondering the desert for 40 years because Moses wanted to take the scenic route. I’m not really sure. I know it’s not in the bible but we do it because everyone else does it. But that never really helped me. I gave up caffeine one time and for a while, it was tough, but then I got used to it. I didn’t feel any spiritually more in tune with what Easter was all about. The hardest part was going to a Braves’ game against the Cubs on the Saturday night before Easter and not having a Coke at the game. (We did stop just after midnight on our way home and I got a Mountain Dew or Cherry Coke or something caffeinated.)
So this year, I decided to take the Monty Python approach and try something completely different. The idea came from a tweet from a Jewish sportswriter and journalism teacher named Jeff Pearlman.* Pearlman wrote that he and his kids were doing a good deed a week for a year after he got the idea from a man doing good deeds in honor of his dying father. I simply adopted the idea for Lent and decided that I, along with my three-year old son, would do something to make someone else’s day better.
*Sports fans, Braves’ fans in particular, may remember him as the author of the article in which John Rocker reaffirmed every stereotype of the dumb jock.
Where I run into questions regarding doing it correctly or not is here. I only had two ground rules for our good deeds. First, they needed to be something that could be an immediate impact. Not so much for me, but the idea of delayed gratification isn’t exactly a strong suit of most three-year olds. Paying for the order of the car behind you at the drive-thru is certainly something that would improve someone’s day, but that impact is lost on small children. The second ground rule is that we didn’t do anything quote spiritual unquote**. In fact, other than a few times when I mentioned what we were doing was for Lent, we pretty much left all aspects of Christianity out of it.
**One day we were out to lunch with my wife before we’d done anything nice yet and she suggested we have our son go up to the woman at the next table and tell her Jesus loves her. I talked her out of this because not knowing her beliefs, sending a small child to tell her that could seem manipulative or really not something that would make her day better. That and the fact no one wants to be disturbed during lunch.
We did things such as donating clothes to Goodwill (Day 1), or giving a woman a flower outside of the grocery store (Day 3). We colored a picture of a firefighter and brought it to one of the stations to tell them thank you for what they do (Day 6) and we donated one of his favorite stuffed animals to the Police Department to use when they interact with children (Day 13). We had an elderly couple stop while we were picking up trash at our neighborhood entrance to tell us thank you (Day 14). We colored pictures for an anonymous patient in Hospice care (Day 17).
We stopped to tell the guy cleaning the windows outside the store to “have a nice day” (Day 24) and we told the groundskeepers at the park thank you for keeping the park clean for us to play (Day 28). We (well, he) helped me “take care of a little baby” (Day 30) and colored a picture and helped me write a letter to a friend from North Carolina who is serving abroad (Day 37). Somewhere in there we went to Georgia Southern to give students a high five because, hey, who doesn’t like a high five? We even went beyond 40 days because, as I re-learned, Lent is 40 days if you don’t count Sundays, but I couldn’t figure out how to explain to a 3-year old that we didn’t have to do something good today just because it was Sunday.
So now that it’s over and I’ve had a chance to reflect on it, what did I learn? Well, I learned it’s hard to come up with 47 unique ideas of how to make someone’s day when you’re also trying to have ideas that a young child can also grasp and see the immediate impacts.
More interestingly, to me anyway, is the question of doing good works without an accompanying message of faith and its true impact. Faith, without works, are dead. But are works, with the absence of overt faith, equally dead? Is making someone’s day a little better enough? Did an absence of an evangelistic message defeat the greater purpose? Did the lack of any actual greater purpose minimize the spiritual impact? Do any of those questions really matter?
While people like the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus asking about how to receive eternal life, many others came to him*** asking for physical needs to be met, be it curing a blind man or healing a leper or something as trivial as running out of wine at a wedding. And while there was clearly an aspect of faith in coming to Jesus for help, there were also the physical needs that seemed to be the most pressing concern. I imagine that the paralytic lowered through the roof to Jesus was probably devastated when Jesus saw him and then said “Son, your sins are forgiven.” My guess is that’s not what he was wanting at that moment.
***Jesus supports proper grammar and, therefore, the proper capitalization of pronouns.
Ultimately, I can't get too worried about the eternal ramifications of our little adventure. It’s a fun thought experiment, but one that in the end can’t be determined in this life. Our motives were to spread a little joy and make someone’s day a little better in our own little way. Some days went better than others, but overall, I think we achieved what we were going for. And if my son one day realizes that being a Christian means more than seeing a need and responding “I’ll pray for you,” then even better. For now, I’ll be happy knowing at least 47 people had one day made a little better by our efforts.