Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Doing Lent Well

I don't do Lent well.

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.

I don't do Lent well if Lent is defined as giving up chocolate, Diet Coke or a glass of merlot. I don't do Lent well if Lent means praying an hour a day or spending more time with the lonely and forgotten. But if Lent means allowing God to take hold of me once more, like a potter gently applying moisture to a bit of clay in order to smooth out the rough places, then maybe, just maybe, God's got me doing Lent just the way God wants me to.

What about you? How well do you do Lent?


Pastor Mandy said...

Not very well. But to me, Lent is something that happens TO me. Marjorie Thompson says of spiritual practices that the relevant question is "What does God want to accomplish in me through this practice?" Or words to that effect. Perhaps Lent is a journey we embark on that is more about experiencing what God is doing than our "doing?" Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

I hear you, Donna. I've stopped centering my lenten practice on giving stuff up (although I do give some things up). Rather, I've been thinking about it as a season of concerted discipline to add habits into my life that I already know would be good for me, but that busy-ness, or laziness, or apathy have kept me from doing. Some of them are sacrifices (not eating some foods I like that also happen not to be especially good for me; not using FB during certain hours of the day), but some of them are enriching, like regularly scheduled exercise, or getting up a little earlier in order to spend some time practicing piano in the morning. I suppose one might say these practices aren't really spiritual disciplines, but so much of my life involves thinking about God that the last thing I need is "devotional quiet time" that involves more reading. The kind of mind renewal that comes from exercising my body and creative energies makes me more alive to God's world. And I think that's deeply spiritual, and quite appropriate for Lent.

Anonymous said...

sometimes it takes me ALL of Lent to figure out what God most needs to re-form in me...to which I'd have been completely blind if giving up chocolate or Cokes for 7 weeks had satisfied that need. Although the most interesting years were the one when I gave up sarcasm (can we say, bleeding tongue?) and on a more serious note, the year I tried NOT to multi-task, but to focus on only one thing or person at a time.