Every December, our family study becomes the Christmas room — the place where we store bows and paper, wrap presents or hide away a few gifts until the big day comes. In those weeks of Yuletide, Christmas crowds out everything else. No thinking or working gets done in our home office in the final month of the year.
In January, the trappings of the holiday subside like an outgoing tide. I don’t fully notice the change until after Mardi Gras, usually on some gray morning in late winter when I find myself in the study alone. With our kids back to leading their own lives and my wife out answering one of the hundred urgencies that throb through her day, I realize how quiet and empty the study has become. That’s when I sense the arrival of Lent, a season of solemn self-appraisal that resonates in secular culture, too.
You don’t have to be a Christian to regard the bottom of winter, when Lent comes, as a time to take stock of who you are and where you’re going. Other things tug the mind and soul inward, even without a liturgical calendar to compel hard reflection.
February is when I join many other fellow Americans in acknowledging that my New Year’s resolutions aren’t working out as planned. It’s when tax time arrives, an accounting of what I owe the IRS that, if I’m wise enough, might prompt me to think in broader terms about what else I owe my country. It’s also when I gaze out the window and see what a mess winter has made of the yard, how much weeding and trimming and raking there is to do.
This time of year can make me feel especially unequal to what life is asking of me. Maybe that’s one point of Lent — to dampen your ego and deepen your sense of how small you are in the scheme of things, how dependent you are on the wider web of grace that keeps a fragile world intact.
I’ve written before in praise of “Lady Bird,” the acclaimed recent movie about a teenage girl, the title character, struggling to find her way — with help from a determined mother whose sacrifices aren’t usually appreciated.
“I want you to be the very best version of yourself,” the mother tells Lady Bird. “But what if this is the best version?” the young girl asks.
Three Saturdays ago, the postman brought me an oblong parcel, addressed in a familiar hand, that I quickly recognized as a package from my fri…
It’s a question a lot of us might ask at this point in the year, when January’s bright hopes for radical personal reform have so often yielded to our growing grasp of how hard change really is. There’s always the possibility of doing better. But with the ripening of middle age comes the suspicion that, warts and all, the best version of ourselves might be in the mirror.
Is it good enough? Easter, a celebration of unconditional love, gives us reason to hope.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.