I heard a story recently that has become a mantra for me in these early days of Lent. It's the story of a four-year-old girl named Mary whose favorite possession was a strand of fake pearls. Mary wore her pearls everywhere - to preschool, to bed, in the bathtub. One night, Mary's dad came into her room to tuck her in and asked, "Mary, do you love me?" Surprised, Mary responded, "Yes, Daddy. I love you lots." "Then give me your pearls," her dad said. Mary offered her father any of her games or toys but protested that she couldn't possibly give up her pearls. Understanding, Mary's dad kissed her goodnight and went back downstairs.
A couple of weeks later, Mary's dad went into her room and found her sitting on her bed, tears streaming down her cheeks. Concerned, Mary's dad sat down and asked her what was wrong. Slowly, she took off her fake pearls and handed them to her dad. Her dad put them in his pocket, then pulled from his other pocket a strand of real pearls and clasped them around her neck.
It seems to me that these days of Lent are like this encounter between Mary and her dad. We all have our own strand of fake pearls. We all have something - a habit, a thought pattern, a grudge - that we hold on to like Mary held on to her fake pearls. God gently invites us over these 40 days to look closely at our own fake pearls and, gradually, to let them go. And as we let them go, we open ourselves to receive the real pearls - whatever they might be - that God promises to each of us.