By Steven Norris

     “Are you having fun?” my wife asked, expectantly.  Her eyebrows arched up with anticipation and her eyes sparkled as they so often do with pure hope and genuine affection. We had spent the whole day at an amusement park with our children, riding rides and seeing shows.

     “Of course,” I said between bites of my over-priced chicken sandwich.

     “Then, you might want to let your face know it,” she replied. “It’s pretty hard to tell at the moment.”

     For those that know me, I have permanent frown lines in my forehead, and I hate it. It is not that I feel particularly unhappy, but rather that my natural inclination is to be a thinker — to mull things over and ponder them deeply. Truthfully, I am a bit jealous of those individuals with crows feet extending from the corners of their eyes, admiring those permanent witnesses to a face that zealously smiles often.

     Lent is a time for introspection and reflection. As the days lengthen, so might the shadows cast by the violence, hunger, and pain of our world. It would be easy to fixate on the cross — that monument to coerced peace “at the end of the sword” — and forget about the joy of the empty tomb. It would be easy to sacrifice the crow’s feet for the deep ravine of worry and fear.

     I cannot help but wonder if Lent is the perfect time for some spiritual archaeology. What layers of insulation have we put up to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of the world in which we live?

     There is the “insulation” against disappointment. It is much easier to keep people at arm’s length than letting our expectations get too high and risk being let down again and again.

     I am talking about the “insulation” against harm. To protect ourselves, we often put up walls — literally and metaphorically. We wall ourselves in to prevent injury, but often prevent true connection with our neighbors in the process.

     “Insulating” ourselves against want can motivate us to hoard up resources in our pantries, houses, and retirement accounts. We may not need it today, but we keep it, “just in case.”

     We try to stave off loneliness and isolation through the “insulation” of technology. Despite its promise of staying connected with long-lost friends and family, many people have found social media to be more isolating and divisive than life without it.

     Our entertainment culture promises “insulation” against boredom but rarely delivers meaningful long-term solutions. Rather, it compromises and settles for temporary distractions.

     Lent is precisely the time to begin excavating beneath the well-manicured surface of our lives in search of the treasure of joy, the gift of laughter, and the rediscovery of fun. I am not talking about temporary, circumstantial, fleeting fun. I am talking about deep, abiding joy that leaves crow’s feet etched in one’s face. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said. May this Lent be a time to unearth the spiritual gift of joy in your own heart.