A Lenten confession: I rarely remember not to eat meat on Fridays.

Halfway into the first bite of my turkey sandwich, I swear (strike two), curse myself, remove the offending poultry, and spend the rest of the day feeling guilty.

It isn’t a major sin, and I’m sure God is forgiving when His more artistic (read: unfocused) children cannot seem to internalize the simplest of sacrifices.

Hey (I tell myself), at least I’m trying.

Striving, to some degree, is the cultural law of Lent. We strive to be better – we sacrifice something we enjoy, we aspire to strengthen our relationship with God, we promise to read or re-read the Bible – and this effort is intended to purify us, to prepare us for Jesus’ great sacrifice.

It’s a pattern we know well. The American ideal is similarly aspirational, with a more earthly focus: Do more, be more, make more, have more. The difference is Lent is a 40-day reflection on death, while the future is the American preoccupation.

A friend came to visit this fall. He was talking about his father who, after decades of working overtime to save up for a good retirement, has been diagnosed with a series of diseases: first cancer, then Parkinson’s, now dementia.
All those missed moments in the life of his family, all those years of striving.

“He was a great man,” my friend said.

The same weekend, a high-ranking employee at my mom’s company died unexpectedly, a man she’d greatly admired. A couple of years ago, a family gathering turned bleak as my brothers-in-law discussed older co-workers who’d died suddenly – one of a quick-acting cancer, the other a heart attack in the office.

We all know such stories, and the older we get, the more we grow acquainted with death. Striving keeps us busy as we navigate the sometimes turbulent seas of life, but always tunneling toward the future – or for some people, backward into the past – may obscure our view of the present.

Reflecting on death is perhaps the best reminder to cherish one’s life, so I believe my Lenten resolution will be to live more fully in the present. My husband is in his last semester of pharmacy school, and on the weekends, we are working hard to complete renovations on our house. In short, this is a busy time for us, and it’s easy to forget the importance of simply enjoying life.

At this moment, sitting in our window seat, basking in sunlight and listening to a beautiful aria (my toddler is napping!), I truly feel blessed, unencumbered by that perpetual striving.

Now, I just need to remember this feeling…