I struggled this year with what to give up during Lent.
Lent is the roughly six-week period of penitential preparation leading into the Christian celebration of Easter. During Lent many Christians abstain from something they enjoy as a way of focusing on the meaning of Easter.
Others not necessarily following religious practices find the Lenten period a good time to give up something as an exercise in self-control.
I considered giving up following the news a daily habit that would take some effort to stop.
Then I read a piece by Margaret Renkl a New York Times contributing opinion writer who I enjoy because she is a fine writer with a good sense of the outdoors. Ms. Renkl also thought about giving up the news for Lent then decided that responsible people in a democracy cannot afford the luxury of tuning out what is happening around them.
She is right of course but I had another reason for not giving up the news: I realized that it might be more of a comfort than a sacrifice. Not reading or hearing about the violence political pandemonium and general mayhem infecting our world would be a relief.
Then came a thought offering a different approach. What if instead of giving up something I took up something?
I needed to think about this so went to the best thinking place – the woods.
As I walked a glimmer caught my eye. It came from a stand of maples off to my right and I walked over to investigate.
The glimmer was sunlight hitting drops of sap running down the bark of one maple. A woodpecker had broken the tree’s bark causing it to bleed sap. Early March is the time that sap flows freely and can be tapped to collect and boil down into maple syrup.
Watching the sap drip it occurred to me that these maples have lessons to offer about living.
Every year no matter what convulsions rock the world maples carry on doing what they have done for many hundreds of years. Wind storms might shake them their branches might sag painfully under the weight of heavy snow. Temperatures might fluctuate crazily warming and freezing their juices.
But when temperatures settle to about plus five Celsius during the day and minus five during the night the sap runs and can be collected to boil down into the excellent food source of maple syrup and maple sugar.
Whatever happens the maple does nothing in haste. It persists living and working quietly and patiently. When tapped it releases its sap not in a quick stream but drop by drop.
The maple expects the same from those who harvest what it produces. It rejects the human world’s fast food thinking that encourages getting it all and getting it quickly.
The maple never hurries. It takes five and a half days on average to give up the 40 gallons of sap needed to boil down to one gallon of maple syrup. It teaches that there are no high-tech solutions just hard work and patience.
I decided to follow the example of the maple and take up practising patience for Lent and beyond. It will be a sacrifice; patience is not something that comes easy to most of us.
It has been said that patience has its limits and taken too far it can be considered cowardice. True enough in critical situations such as war and disease epidemics. Wait too long in battle before taking decisive action and the enemy will overrun you. Or in a health epidemic delay action while waiting for more evidence and the disease runs unchecked and out of control.
But patience should not be seen as procrastination. It doesn’t mean never objecting to something or simply giving up.
Patience is taking the time to think things through to try to understand others and how they feel. In other words taking time to prepare yourself before making decisions.
Patience is difficult to practise because it is so much easier just to become frustrated and angry.
Getting anything done thoroughly and successfully takes time. Patience is the ability to recognize that.
The maple has practised patience for centuries. It is an essential reminder of how we should behave during stressful times.