“I love you.”
Her words pierced through the silence. I looked over at Gabby in the passenger seat. She was smiling and looking me in the eye.
“I love you, too!”
My mind had been racing. Jumping from “What should we eat for dinner?” to “How should I redesign my company website?” to “Who wrote the 80’s classic ‘Safety Dance?’” Gabby’s unsolicited, unexpected words of affection brought me back to reality.
A few miles down the road, she said it again.
“I love you.”
I stared at her, both hands on the wheel.
“That’s nice, honey. I love you, too!” I glanced up and corrected my steering, coming back into the passing lane.
“No. I really love you,” she said.
I reached across the console and grabbed her hand. We continued our drive to church, connected in silence, but knowing the deep bond between us.
And so it went for several weeks. Three simple words, “I love you.” Spoken as frequently as one might say “Hello” to an acquaintance or “Put on your shoes” to a four-year-old prior to leaving the house. I’m not sure what I had done, but Gabby showered me with an avalanche of affectionate words, and I was happily buried.
Then came Easter.
On our way home from church, Gabby turned to me and asked, “So, do you want to know what I gave up for Lent?”
“I never told you what I gave up for Lent. The past forty days. Do you want to know what it was?”
“Well,” she hesitated. “You know how I always criticize your driving?”
“Well. For Lent, every time I wanted to comment about your speeding, or not signaling, or whatever else, I decided to say ‘I love you’ instead.”
I nearly rear-ended the Toyota immediately in front of us. To this day, anytime Gabby says “I love you,” my first response is to scream, “Driving on the shoulder is perfectly acceptable in 43 of the 50 states!” Probably not the result she was looking for.
As we enter another Lenten season, we church-goers are looking for something significant to “give up” for Lent. So, what’ll it be? Sweets? Reality TV shows? Facebook? I’ll make you wait until the book is out to hear about the hilariously crazy “no new stuff” action I have taken to kick off the Lenten season this year.
But Gabby had it right. Lent is less about “what” you choose to sacrifice, and more about “why” you choose to sacrifice. For Gabby, she realized a simple behavior in her life was getting in the way of genuinely connecting with someone important to her.
Too often, Lent becomes an exercise in delayed gratification. We choose to deny ourselves of something we love so that we can truly appreciate it when we have it once again at Easter. And, there is a certain spiritual truth in that. On the Earth, we can get disconnected from all things God. And one day, God willing, we’ll get to ride that grand escalator to the sky where we finally meet our Creator and bask in the heavenly embrace. I’m sure it’ll feel just like having your first Pop Tart after going carb-free for six weeks.
But it’s so much more than delayed gratification. Lent is a time of pruning. Cutting away the shoots that have grown over time. The ones that clutter, and choke, and prevent healthy growth. And feeding and caring for the branches that really matter.
And we hope that is what comes from this “Year Without A Purchase”. Our stuff and the energy we put toward its acquisition can distract us from what’s truly important. Time with family. Deep conversation. Service to those on the margins.
We hope that this won’t be a one-time thing, or an opportunity to binge on January 1, 2014. It’s not about saving money. It’s about saving ourselves from the distractions by consistently asking, “What is this purchase for?” “Will this purchase help to build a connection with others or with God?” “Or will this purchase just be something else to take care of. Something else to worry about? Something that gets in the way of people seeing the real me?”
While we’ve been successful in not purchasing any new “stuff” in seven weeks, we are still short of this larger goal. A permanent change. A lifetime of “I love you.”
And so we press onward.