Last night Jim and I were comparing childhood memories, specifically summers at the swimming pool. We realized that while we had grown up in different states, the traditions of community pools didn’t vary much. There was still a “lap lane” for the competitive types to actually swim laps- away from the nuisance of kids playing “Marco Polo”. There were still rules about how many people could be on a diving board. And there was still the tremendous injustice of “Adult Swim”.
This, especially, was news to me. As a child there was nothing we dreaded more than the last ten minutes of every hour when the lifeguard would blow their whistle and announce “Adult Swim!” Dozens of kids would have to empty the pool and sit on the sidelines, glaring, while one or two adults would wade around the shallow end, the pool completely to themselves. We felt it was a tremendous injustice- we only had so many hours and minutes left in our summer vacations and to have to spend it on the sidelines, eating goldfish, when we’d rather be diving for pennies was just so unfair.
Reflecting on this trauma of childhood, my husband the safety expert pointed out, “well, it probably wasn’t for the adults to actually swim. It was probably to force the kids to take a break so they didn’t get tired out and drown.”
This had never occurred to me, but it made perfect sense. Most kids don’t have the discipline to take a break when they’re tired and there are friends to race across the pool, and most parents and babysitters don’t want to be the bad guys who say “come sit for a minute”. Those ten minutes of rest each hour was a way for everyone to save face.
What a revelation. This annoyance of childhood may have actually been a safety precaution (or perhaps an unintended one).
This is rolling around my head as I approach Lent this year. Like any over-confident millennial, I don’t think there’s any room for improvement in my life. Sure I hit the snooze button a dozen times in the morning and eat chocolate for my 10:00 a.m. snack, but Lent is for everyone else who needs improvement- not me.
However, today’s gospel reminds me that even Christ “went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35) and I’m humbly reminded that if Christ took concentrated time to reflect and pray, maybe I should too.
Lent—forty days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving—are like that adult swim that I thought was totally unnecessary as a child. A designated time for me to focus on where I’ve grown lazy or complacent in my relationship with God, a time for me to be brutally honest and realize that there are in fact many areas of my life that sin, selfishness and laziness have settled in.
Full disclosure. I don’t like lent. I don’t like self-reflection. I’d rather keep going full speed ahead, with no thought of where or how I need to change.
I don’t like lent, but I need it.