In September of 1962, John F. Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University in which he announced to the world that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. This was an astonishing assertion for him to make. John Glenn had only recently orbited the earth in Friendship 7, and that was difficult enough. A trip to the moon seemed completely beyond the capacity of the young National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Scientists had no idea how to get to the moon, no idea how to land on the moon’s surface, and no idea how the astronauts would return to earth. Nevertheless, JFK promised that in eight years, an American would walk on the moon.
In the speech in which he makes this promise, the president put the moon landing on the timeline of human endeavor, mentioning the founding of Plymouth colony, George Mallory’s attempt to summit Mount Everest, and Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. None of these events came easily; none of the people involved could be certain that they would be successful. Why would they risk their lives and their fortunes for something that is not a guaranteed success? Why should the United States risk its reputation to accomplish a seemingly insurmountable goal? Kennedy answers that gnawing question like this:
But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
JFK affirmed that things worth doing are often difficult to do, and that if there is an easy way out, the endeavor might not be worth our time.
Throughout his presidency, Kennedy affirmed that America is meant to do difficult and challenging things. From his first inaugural address, where he urges the American people to ask what they can do for their country, to his speech at Rice University where he says that we will go to the moon because it is difficult, Kennedy expects much from the people he was elected to serve. From our contemporary perspective, this is astonishing. One of the primary ways that companies try to sell us things is by telling us that they will save us time and energy and will make things easy for us. Every article about exercising, which is hard work by definition, encourages us to try a “quick and easy” workout. We tend to avoid doing things when they are hard.
We are now in the “dog days” of Lent. Our Lenten routines are no longer fresh and new, but we have not yet arrived at the emotional intensity of Holy Week. We may be tempted to take a hiatus from our Lenten disciplines because it would be so much easier to pay less attention to what we eat or how we use our time. It’s important, however, for us to remember that these Lenten disciplines are not meant to be easy. This does not mean that they are supposed to be arduous, but they are supposed to challenge us, to help us develop a deeper understanding of our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. So keep at it. Try not to see your Lenten routine as a chore, but rather as a way of opening yourself up to the grace of God. Remember that we engage in these Lenten disciplines not because they are easy, but because they are hard.