I'm a professional Christian - one who gets paid to tell others about Lent. I've written newsletter articles about Lent and suggested a million different ways for others to observe this sacred season of fasting, repentance and reflection. But I don't do Lent well.
Give up caffeine? I love my early morning coffee and afternoon Diet Coke.
Give up alcohol? I don't drink that much, and red wine is good for my heart. Right?
What about chocolate? Are you kidding me? It's one of my favorite things.
Cursing? I only curse in the car. Well, I try to only curse in the car.
When people ask me about my Lenten disciplines, I have an uncanny ability to turn the conversation around so I can hear all about another person's sacrifices. But oftentimes people keep prodding. "So, what are you doing for Lent, pastor?"
I told someone last week that I was trying to write more notes to people, expressing my gratitude. She commented on how I do this anyway. Her response was enough for me to see that maybe it was not a Lenten discipline, but a regular practice I seek to embody.
I'll return to Holy Cross Abbey for five days of silence, reflection, prayer, reading and walking the week after next. But can anyone say that a week in a thin place where heaven and earth collide for me is really a Lenten discipline? I don't fast at the abbey but rather have my fill of the creamed honey slathered on toast that the monks produce as a fundraiser.
I just proofed a bulletin for the Third Sunday of Lent. The season is marching on at a rapid pace. Ready or not, Holy Week is on the horizon at the end of next month - a month that starts this Friday.
I don't do Lent well.
But maybe, just maybe, God does Lent for me - getting me right where God wants me so that God can change my heart.
I completely overreacted one day last week when I came back from lunch and realized all of the trash from the morning shower ministry was just outside one of our church entrances. It had been there since 8:00 in the morning which means that hundreds of people had passed by a church that did not seem to care enough to even get its trash to the dumpster. It was an honest mistake - but one that made me steam for a while and then be obnoxious towards a hardworking, dedicated volunteer.
I've been praying since last Thursday that I would not react that way again - ever. I've been asking God to give me a better understanding and awareness of church members who pour their heart and soul into a ministry that is the equivalent of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I've been begging for more patience or an attitude that takes care of things that get left behind without making a big deal out of it. God's working on me. God's got me right where I need to be.
I went to bed last night tossing and turning over what my role is as a pastor. It was a rough day of pastoral care needs, and I had no idea where to start. Too often I'm caught between competing demands - some of which have little to do with why I responded to God's call on my life. As I wrestle with administration and pastoral care, the needs of a building and the needs of people, I hear my heart crying out for guidance on how to be a more faithful pastor. I don't want to be the CEO of a small non-profit downtown. I'm a pastor - a person called to journey alongside of people in joy and pain. Maybe God is in the center of this searching, pushing me back to what's important in small and subtle ways.
What about you? How well do you do Lent?