The temptations of Jesus which we read about on the first Sunday of Lent offer us three usual ways – possession, power & fame – through which we seek meaning and significance, thinking that this is what makes us ‘somebody’ in the world. Lent offers us a time to name (and resist) these as illusions. For in the end, these are not what make us real. In the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams) the stuffed rabbit is surrounded by other, more expensive and sophisticated mechanical toys that flaunt their complexity and eventually asks “Does real mean having things that buzz inside you and a handle that sticks out?”
The Skin Horse replied, “Real is how you are made. It is a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are real, you do not mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get lose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”
Lent is the time to remember that being loved by God is in the end what makes us real. It is also a time to learn to let ourselves be so loved. When one thinks about it from this perspective, lent becomes a very joyful season!
For an extended reflection along these lines see Patricia Datchuck Sanchez, “Becoming Real” National Catholic Reporter, Feb 5, 20, 2010 (p. 27).