The hardest part of hard work is getting started. Consider all the snow you’ve been shoveling. The most difficult part is not lifting the shovel. It is getting out the door. The worst part is not the hour you spend clearing the driveway, but rather the few moments it takes to push yourself outside. It is easier to get going if you know someone is already out there. It is easier to start working, if you know someone will be working with you. Perhaps that is why on the first Sunday of Lent we hear about Jesus’ forty-day fast in the desert. Beginning the work of Lent, its helpful to know the Lord is already out there.
Recording the Lord’s time in the desert, Saint Mark tells us that Jesus “was among the wild beasts.” Taking on our humanity, Jesus was subject to all the frailties, vulnerabilities and anxieties of the flesh. During Lent, we feel them as well. Throughout these forty days, we’re threatened by the growl and roar of untamed stomachs. We’re hassled by the bite and pull of abandoned habits. There is the peck and crow of petty dependencies nagging us to return. Entering the Lenten desert, we find the flesh is full of wild beasts that refuse to leave our solitude untroubled.
Jesus was “tempted by Satan” in the desert. That ancient enemy appears in our desert as well. Going beyond the flesh, this fallen angel troubles the spirit. Angered by our desire to draw close to God, he stirs up thoughts of doubt and despair. He goes for the heart, supplying both the temptation and the rationalization to give in. He will make any number of false promises, “if you will fall down and worship me” (Mt 4:9). Faced with the drought of the desert, we’ll drink almost anything. The desert can be lonely, and the devil is a willing companion.
Hard work is hardest when it is done alone. The hard work of Lent however is done for the sake of being with someone. Enduring the wild beasts, and staring down the devil’s offer of ‘friendship,’ Jesus abandoned himself to his Father: “the angels ministered to him.” The Father and his angels are in our desert as well. We face our wild beasts, we turn down the devil, for the sake of growing closer to God. As we take on a Lenten penance, at the same time we sense the ministry of the angels. Putting down our desserts and entertainments, we feel heavenly hands lift us up. The hardest part is getting started. It helps to remember that we are stepping out to begin a labor of love with the one who loves us best.