First Sunday of Lent
MT 4:1-11
March 1, 2020

Last fall, I had TKR (total knee replacement) surgery, and I quickly reached the point of boring myself with the details of my recovery. Although listening politely, I can only imagine what my friends are thinking when they ask about my progress, and I go on for half an hour about every ache and pain. Simply put, this has been a “desert experience.” I look forward to the time when I am healed and this is all in the past. However, there have been some extremely important lessons that I would do well to remember for the rest of my life.

The first lesson came when I finally got around to opening mail and resuming the obligatory monthly task of paying bills. I was shocked to see my credit card statement, with a balance of $8 due and owing. I saved a whole lot of money by being “housebound” for over a month. As I wrote the check, it dawned on me that I must indulge in a whole lot of unnecessary spending when I’m able to walk around normally. Although I do not think I am extravagant, I must be spending a good deal of money on things I want but don’t really need. Going forward, I have vowed to think twice before pulling out the plastic. Thoughtless spending can easily become a way of life.

The second big lesson hit within the first five minutes I was back home after being discharged from the hospital. The surgeon had assured me that I would be “perfectly fine” even though I live on my own. In fact, while I was not totally helpless, I was very much dependent, in countless ways, on the kindness and generosity of my good friends. I thought I understood the importance of “charitable giving,” but being the recipient made me appreciate all that much more how dependent we are on the goodness of one another. Thoughtful and generous giving should become a lifestyle for all faithful disciples.

Insomnia has been part of my post-op experience. I just can’t seem to get comfortable, and I spend half the night staring at the ceiling. I got to the point that I dreaded bedtime. For me, the most frustrating part of the sleeplessness was the inability to even pray. All of my energy was going into the pointless exercise of tossing and turning, making it nearly impossible to focus. As a result, I abandoned my usual prayer routine.

Then, at some point, I came to the realization that I was actually thinking some pretty big thoughts. Although I wasn’t able to talk to God, God was trying to talk to me. This insight hasn’t made it any easier for me to fall asleep, but it has made me much less anxious about going to bed. Now I look forward to hearing what God has to say to me in the wee hours.
My desert experience of TKR has helped me to jump start this Lent. Inspired by The Lord’s temptations in the desert, the pillars of this penitential season are FASTING, ALMSGIVING, and PRAYER.

What I have learned over these past months is how easily we can talk ourselves into what is unnecessary. The result is that we fall into a pattern of self-indulgence. We are never fully satisfied with what we have, and we do not fully appreciate the things we actually need. A more conservative lifestyle leaves us much more content with necessities, and, at the same time, enables us to be more generous with others. All of this came to me in the middle of the night, once I finally learned to stop telling God what I think and what I want. When I finally stopped talking and started listening, I discovered that God has a lot to say to me.

Funny that it took TKR for me to fully appreciate the value of the “desert experience“ of Lent. This season is an opportunity to gain control over those things trying to control us. This is an opportunity to reflect on our total dependence on the kindness and generosity of others…reaching out to those who have needs that we can easily meet. This is a time to truly listen to what God is saying to us.

If we embrace the penitential practices of FASTING, ALMSGIVING, and PRAYER, when Easter comes, we will have an improved spiritual lifestyle. But what’s more important, we will enjoy a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ.