One of my football coaches in college, Kirk Doll, would constantly say to our linebacker group, "It doesn't matter how you start, it's how you finish that matters." Coach Doll would say this to emphasize that no matter how well we may have started during a particular play or game, was not nearly as important as where or how we ended up on a particular play.
Examples of this abound in the world of athletics. Michael Phelps came from behind to claim gold from Milorad Cavic in the 100m butterfly during the 2008 Olympics. Behind for the entire race, Phelps out touched Cavic by 1/100 of a second.
Leon Lett went down in sports' infamy when in the 1993 Superbowl a hustling Don Beebe stripped the ball from Lett's hands moments before what should have been an easy fumble return for a touchdown.
During the 1995 NBA Playoffs, Reggie Miller single handedly score 8 points in the closing 16.4 seconds of a game for a victory over the Knicks.
The same thing is true in life, too. A baby chick is so much more attractive than an egg; a butterfly more visually stunning and graceful than a caterpillar; riding a two wheel bicycle is so much more liberating that a tricycle.
There is truth to this in the spiritual realm as well. Consider the examples of Peter and Paul. Peter, a liar and a coward, and Paul, a mercenary killing members of the very group that he would later join and lead, were used by Jesus to establish the Church after Jesus' Ascension into Heaven.
Truly, it doesn't matter how you start, it's how you finish that matters.
Even take Jesus as another example. Prior to spending 40 days in the desert, the time observed during Lent, Jesus was reluctant to fulfill the prophecies claiming His Royal Priesthood. After this 40 day fast and spiritual wrestling match with the devil, Jesus emerges prepared to be the Messiah-- teaching, preaching, performing miracles, saving us from our sins.
This liturgical season of Lent is a time for Christians to literally "turn" back to Jesus. Receiving ashes on our foreheads during the Celebration of the Eucharist on Ash Wednesday, we are told to, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." Jesus hopes that through the season of Lent we will be better on Easter than we were on Ash Wednesday.
Jesus is telling us, "It doesn't matter how you may have started, it's how you finish that matters."
Lent is a time to strip away some or all of the distractions that keep us from Christ. It is a time to simplify our lives. It is a time to go hungry, as Jesus did, so that we can recognize our spiritual hunger for God.
It is a time for us to enter our own desert. Some place where it is just God and us. Some time when and some place where nothing else is happening, except listening to God’s voice.
There will be many desert experiences throughout our lives. Some, like each Lenten journey, will be self-imposed through an increase on our own parts in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Others, like the death of a loved one, or a disappointment in trying out for a team and being cut, or not getting a job, or having our affection for another rejected will transpire unexpectedly.
But, it is precisely during these desert experiences that God is speaking loudest to us. C.S. Lewis writes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
God will use those desert experiences, if we let him, to speak to us. It will be His opportunity to shout to us- to hit us over the head with what we should be doing and how we should be acting. But, He lets us make the first move. He’s waiting for us in the desert. He went there and met the devil. We enter our deserts and meet Christ.
He’s there ready to speak to us; are we silent enough to listen?