I clearly recall my oldest daughter’s first Easter. Weeks ahead of time, I purchased an elaborate new outfit for her. Head to toe, she would proclaim the specialness of the day.
What I hadn’t counted on were God’s plans. That year we woke up to a raging snowstorm on Easter morning. Before Mass, I dressed my darling daughter in her Easter finery — and then covered it over with a fuzzy snowsuit.
I have heard it said that, if you want to hear God laugh, just make plans. This year, even more so than the year of our infamous Easter blizzard, I believe I heard the heavens roaring on my behalf.
You see, at the beginning of Lent his year, I did make plans. I gathered Lenten recipes, prepared lesson plans that focused on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and designed a personal regimen of disciplines for myself. But those were my plans. Once again, God had something else in mind.
It started with the flu. As anyone who has ever fallen prey to this insidious virus can attest, it knocks you off your feet and onto the couch. Not for hours but days. Instead of baking prayer pretzels, I lay on the couch in a feverish fog. Instead of directing the children in a daily Way of the Cross, I shivered beneath a blanket.
My illness lingered for two weeks. Then, as I slowly crept my way back to good health, I began to turn back to my original Lenten plans. I should have known better. Even before my cough had cleared, my 7-year-old son developed an infection from his own bout with the flu. It was so serious that he needed to be hospitalized. For two weeks.
Now there would be no organized, pre-planned Lenten observances, but there would be plenty of heartache and worry. There would be long commutes between the hospital and home. There would be late nights spent keeping vigil in a chair at my son’s bedside. There would be work schedules to shuffle and child care to arrange. There would be help from friends, humbly and gratefully accepted.
During Lent we are called to remind ourselves of our human weakness and vulnerability. At Easter, however, Christ himself comes to remind us of his glorious resurrection and ultimate triumph over death and sin.
In past years, I have planned and orchestrated perfect Easters. Never before, however, has the contrast between my own human frailty and Christ’s Easter message of life-giving love been made clearer to me than it has this year. Sometimes, our willing acceptance of the sacrifices imposed upon us is more valuable than the performance of dozens of penances of our own choosing.
“In suffering is contained the greatness of a specific mystery,” wrote Pope John Paul II in his 1984 apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris. “This special respect for every form of human suffering must be set … by the deepest need of the heart, and also by the deep imperative of faith.”
Today, as I bask in the warmth of spring sunshine and watch my son run and play with his brothers and sisters, I recall the darkness of this year’s Lent and I realize that Christ has not brought me an Easter joy of my own design and choosing. Instead, he has called me closer to himself through a series of penances I never would have chosen or predicted.
This Easter is not at all the one I planned. But, as it turns out, it is exactly the one I need.
Danielle Bean writes from