Lent, for me, didn’t bring the usual sacrifices and structure that it had in the past. I tried to prepare myself with traditional activities, bible study, stations, etc., but each left me with a dissatisfaction. Not because they weren’t good things to do, but because there did not seem to be anything concrete attached to them. I was just going through the motions; keeping myself busy with what seemed to be right at the time.
Then, the opportunity arose to head down to the Rockaways with my husband and son to help with some of the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Since this storm hit, I wanted to do something, but time and opportunity didn’t coincide. We accepted the offer to help and for the first time, didn’t manage the experience. I just sat back to see where God would work.
We traveled with a group that we’ve been involved with for years; one that has nurtured our spiritual lives and opened the door, for us, to serving others. We began our day with a short prayer service and were reminded that we weren’t bringing God to others; He was already there. We were to be the instruments of His plan in action in those particular places. With that thought in mind, I just allowed the day to happen and allowed myself to be present in the moment.
My first assignment was to distribute food to families who were still displaced or out of work. We arrived on site and waited for the coordinator of the program for quite some time before being told that they had this particular job under control through another agency. I was disappointed at first, but accepted this as God’s plan for those of us who were there to help. We moved on to Plan B.
Arriving at the relief and recovery headquarters, we sat in on a safety orientation and sent out to assist a family whose basement was still flooded and needed help with content removal of the area. When we arrived, the space was too small for the number of volunteers and once again, we had to move on. At this point, we were on to Plan C and I couldn’t help wondering where could God be in all of this moving and shifting – no actual work is getting done here. But moving on is what we did and found ourselves back at relief and recovery headquarters.
After a short wait and a few phone calls we were off to a job where protective gear was a must as demolition and mold removal was to be our task. For the first time that day, I was nervous. This was the only job I did not want to do. For whatever reason, it made me fearful and did not think I was prepared for it. I promised to be open to anything and trusted that this is where God wanted me.
When we arrived at the site, the crew was hard at work with demolition and removal of debris from moldy walls, flooring and insulation. As I peered my head inside, I noticed that volunteers were standing between floor boards with feet on the lower level crawl space. We had to balance on the floor board and hop down into the crawl space to work. My heart started beating, wondering how on earth I was going to do that at my age and with my own limited strength. Once again, I mumbled a questionable prayer for strength and safety.
A little battered and bruised, I somehow manged this task, but only for a few hours, before we were told that we were done on this job as well. We moved through the remainder of the day with the responsibility of getting another volunteer back home and meeting up with a crew helping another family. Although, I didn’t perform any work with this family, I had a chance to speak with the mom (just girl to girl) as she shared the frightening details of that night. My stomach clenched wondering what I would have done in the same situation. We talked about everything she lost, her couch, new tv (still in the box), brand new bed, and all of her daughter’s toys. I struggled to hold in my tears as she said that all the baby pictures were gone, all of her memories just damaged beyond repair. Yet, here she was, starting again, smiling and talking, ready to move on. She showed me her hope and faith in the good people that were helping her.
After returning back to our “home base”, we cleaned up and gathered for a short time of reflection. It was a way to bring our experience full circle and keep it centered on God and not ourselves. We had some reflective questions to guide our thoughts. At first this was difficult, because I didn’t feel as though I had really put much physical effort into the day. I found myself doing a lot of listening to others’ experiences. Then something was shared that put it all in perspective for me and it was suddenly clear. It is the message I wanted to pass along; what I took away from the experience; the message of Simon of Cyrene.
Lent is a time of renewal. Sacrifice, alms giving, fasting and service are the means by which we are to recognize how we have turned away from God and focus on ways in which we bring our focus back on doing His will. As we enter Holy Week and hear the story of the Passion, we can reflect on the one scene where Simon of Cyrene took upon the cross of Jesus. Jesus still had to carry his cross – it was the means to His salvation – but for a short time, someone else took that burden from Him. That short respite that Simon gave to Jesus, gave him the opportunity to have his eyes opened to the love and grace that God offers us if we simply allow Him to do so. The work being done there can be a reminder of the simple act of love and service given to Jesus as he carried his cross, by Simon of Cyrene.
My lenten act of service was to be a respite for those who must continue to carry their cross. To open ourselves, to step out of our comfort zone, to offer friendship and care, to simply listen to someone else’s struggles – this is how we are to be a part of the plan that God, in his infinite wisdom, has already put in place. We simply need to step out and be present.
I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do. ~Hellen Keller
Wishing you a blessed Holy Week.