There is a grave danger in seeing ourselves as the final arbiters of another's happiness, worrying that an obstacle they face may prevent them from living an "ordinary" life while failing to recognize the extraordinary gift their presence is to so many.
How easily we lose sight of why exactly God is giving us something, overemphasizing the things we desire the most in that which He grants us, ignoring what is most valuable for the sake of lesser goods, and missing the point of His generosity altogether. We humans are not just in the business of looking gift horses in the mouth; we want to turn them into unicorns.
Mary and Martha, so often relegated to opposite sides of the spiritual spectrum, would doubtless recognize that I am not focused on my kids instead of God; I'm focused on them because of Him. And that praying through the distractions of my family does not render my devotions powerless, but imbues them with more power than I could ever have achieved on my own. Was it not He Himself that commanded us to let these little distractions come to Him?
Yet He takes us back to Him even after the brutal betrayal of the Cross, and He has done it every moment of every day since that afternoon on Calvary. God does not do it because He needs to "move beyond" the Cross; He does it for no other reason than our own salvation. He has nothing to gain, and we have everything. How absurd and all-consuming is God's forgiveness; how impossibly unlike human forgiveness.
None of us would knowingly place ourselves in a position as extreme as Lear's, embracing or banishing one's family on the strength (or weakness) of their fawning. Yet in a subtle way, we are all susceptible to Lear's fatal weakness, often giving more weight to the opinions and suggestions of those who praise us than to those whose words are designed to help us grow, but may sting a bit, as well. Demanding protestations of love as a prerequisite for acceptance, and measuring out the size of our rewards in conjunction with their avowals is far more common than we would care to admit, and who among us can honestly say that we bear criticism as well as we relish praise?
Like the lamb of Isaiah, little, long-suffering Balthazar does nothing to merit the cruelty he experiences. The silent patience with which the tiny donkey embraces all that befalls him is rendered more extraordinary because we recognize how undeserving he is of such suffering. By contrast, a human being—even the tragic Marie—can never be seen as completely innocent. She, like all fallen humans, carries within herself the seeds of her own destruction, and while we grieve at her lost innocence, it is impossible to consider her a "spotless victim."
Just as Pieter's singleness of vision wore down the boundaries between the world in which he lived and that he sought to portray, so too we—by diligent adherence to our Lenten observances—will narrow the gap between the person we are and that which we wish to be. Eventually, the rediscovery of our Lenten selves will cease to be an annual exercise in frustration, becoming instead a reflection of our true selves.
I remember those days of young love well, and cherished every moment of them. Yet, six sons into the adventure, I find such fare a great deal less appealing—not because they deal with something untrue or even unimportant—but because they deal with it on such a superficial level; it's the stuff of beginners.
Despite the insistent clamoring of Modernity, happiness is not something to be grasped at; paradoxically, the more we pursue it, the less of it we actually have. A failure to recognize our own powerlessness will leave many more sorrowful than they were when they first began this pursuit, for we humans will never succeed in "capturing" the peace and contentment we so ardently desire.