A holy Lent?

It’s that time of the year when many western Christians in liturgical churches attend an Ash Wednesday service and receive ashes on their forehead, a reminder that we are dust (referring to our creation) and to dust we shall return. (That takes the wind out of the sails of pride, at least until the ashes are washed off!)

candles in church
Lent began in the early church as preparation for Resurrection Sunday of converts for baptism, as well as those who were separated from fellowship to be reconciled.

The weeks approaching the observance of the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus soon became a church-wide time of preparation with self-examination and repentance.

In my young teen years, my Roman Catholic friends couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. So, they’d plan parties to be sure to run until midnight, when they could feast on a burger with the rest of us, then we’d all head home.

At some point I joined the many in my church who gave up something for Lent, the most common being chocolate. The mindset was, the more you liked it, the holier you’d be if you gave it up.

Later I heard a caveat that Sunday, reflecting Resurrection day, is a feast day, so you could indulge on that day. That seemed like cheating, but I guessed it helped the struggling. The whole business wasn’t spiritual for me. It seemed more like a carnival game: Sin? Now you see it, now you don’t.

But this Wednesday I will be called:

to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and mediating on God’s holy Word. Book of Common Prayer

Good, healthy activities for the spirit.

I want so much to observe a holy Lent. A couple of years ago I felt strongly that I had to give up social media and online games, namely Facebook, Words with Friends and FreeCell, which can eat up a lot of time. Seeing how hard it was to do that let me know they held too high a place in my priorities. A worthwhile exercise, for certain.

The next year, after learning from Ann Voskamp and others about the value of a thankful heart, I decided I would both give-up and add-on for Lent. I gave up griping and complaining, and sought to add gratefulness to my conversations.

I thought I was just been realistic. But I saw that too many conversations reminded me of something sad, harmful or tragic from my childhood, which I felt needful to share to break free of the secret-keeping tradition, or warn another from hard lessons learned. Oh, my, it’s difficult to change those patterns!

(Note: The secret–keeping in abusive homes is harmful, blocking healing and allowing the abusers all the power. But talking about it over and over, years beyond therapy or confession, is only reenacting the pain, not setting anyone free.)

Each year I’d do an above average job of keeping my Lenten intents, but usually slipped back into old behaviors afterwards.

I’d take another lap around Mt Sinai, like the Hebrews who left Egypt but never made it to the Promised Land. Never enjoyed the life God had saved and rescued and delivered them for.

Always sensing that I’m not good enough.

Yet

After the physical struggles of the past two years, my time of unsought-for-spiritual schooling, as I approach Lent this year, I see “A holy Lent” in a new light.

The brighter light of grace.

My husband and I both grew up in performance oriented homes. (That is probably the norm for our generation, and why Baby Boomers have accomplished so much.) My position in the dysfunctional family was the worker bee, the one who tried to hold everything together, to make everything right.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to turn that off, especially in regards to my self-worth. I fall in bed a night, exhausted and relaxed after proper “sleep hygiene.” Then I close my eyes and pull up a movie of my day, in full color, seeing the errors of my way or words, freezing frames, wishing so much for an edit, or repeat performance, to get it right, as if I could “do the things left undone” and undue the things I “ought not to have done.”

All in my head.

That doesn’t make for great sleep.

Why is it that we can so quickly switch from receiving God’s love and grace to thinking we have to polish our shoes and shine our halos and make ourselves worth the Passion of Christ?

The lesson I have been hearing, month after month, and want so much to really take to heart is that I can’t do anything to be better than I am. God loves me, always has and always will, and nothing I can do will make Him love me more, or love me less.

Certainly, I can do things to show my gratitude and share the love, but NOT TO EARN THAT LOVE! No creeping to the top of 1,000 stone steps on bare knees, hoping my blood will earn a kind welcome.

No number of church services attended, offering given, acts of kindness performed, or Bible verses studied or memorized will make Jesus grin any bigger or stretch his arms any wider in welcome. All that comes from his heart. From the heart of Love.

My children and grandchildren are so different from each other, and whether or not they perform or “reach their potential” or any of the parameters we human beings are so fond of, I love them each passionately, uniquely. Always have. Always will.

And God is such a better parent than I am!

“We are not beggars on the one hand or spiritual customers on the other; we are God’s children, and we just stay before Him with our broken treasure or our pain and watch Him mend or heal in such a way that we understand Him better.” Oswald Chambers, Christian Discipleship, V2

So instead of so much striving I will bring my broken treasure, and at times my pain, and seek the face of the One who sees me, always.

The holy Lent I seek this year is being wholly, gratefully aware of the grace of every breath I take. Of the Love that cushions my heart. And will one day welcome me home, no matter how I perform today, or tomorrow.

Are you planning to observe Lent this year? What will that look like for you?

A mustard seed? Really?

Last week I talked about seeking small graces. Then I read Melissa’s response. And re-read it.

“I have to remember to stop spinning my wheels of doing and practice Being in Christ’s Grace and Love. As I walk through life grounded in God’s Grace, life takes on a spirit of peace and love.” Melissa

It had seemed reasonable, sensible, not asking too much, not being pushy or presumptuous, to be content with small graces. But I began to realize it’s like saying one lettuce leaf and a bite of an apple make a meal. I couldn’t live very well on that diet. light-meal

And my spirit wasn’t created for a miserly grace diet, either.

God held nothing back. He entered our world (that’s what the incarnation is all about), interacted and sacrificed for us so he could lavish his grace on us, his favor, all that we can never earn.

And with the death and resurrection of Jesus, all of the things that we do that negate life have been transformed. He has breathed new life into us.

Inhale.

It is a relief that I don’t have to try harder,

Or stay content among the rocks.

Last weekend I heard a great sermon about the story Jesus told his disciples when they asked him to give them more faith. He said if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move mountains.

A mustard seed? Really?

mustard-see
mustard seed with a dime

When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we throw it out?” “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus.Matt 17:19-20 MSG

From the sermon, by Rev. Charleston D. Wilson, The Church of the Redeemer (underline mine)

When we face tough decisions and hard challenges in life, we not only have the challenge itself to deal with — the external issue — but we also have the internal — let’s say spiritual — struggle as well.

And that internal, spiritual struggle is rooted in that question we often ask ourselves – the same questions the Apostles were asking internally. Do I really have a quantity of faith — enough spiritual oomph, if you will — to deal with difficult decisions and challenges?

And, I’d like to suggest to you right here and right now that the answer to that question is a resounding, loud and clanging: “no!”

You hear me correctly.
No, even on our best days, we lack enough faith, if we’re measuring it by quantity, to face much of anything – let alone a big decision or challenge.

And this is actually good news. And this is actually freeing news. And getting in touch with this is good and emancipating news, because, meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow, and dealing with life in general, isn’t about a supposed quantity of faith at all.

Being a Christian, a man or woman of faith, is about the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, who is alive, and whose grace is sufficient.

Another way to say it is this: no, we don’t have enough, because He is enough!

When I became a Christian at ten, my grandmother gave me a necklace with a mustard seed inside clear resin. I wore it for years, trying hard to have enough faith to move mountains. After all, the seed was so small, surely I could do that much!

But I didn’t move any mountains. Many of my good intentions went haywire. Then, I spent years dwelling in regret – sure I’d failed the mustard seed test.

And wanting so much to make up for it.

When Jesus began speaking grace to me, personally, I even argued with him!

In a way, I guess I still am.

But the truth that is setting me free is, not only is it not about what I do, it isn’t even how much I believe. It’s not about me.

It’s about WHO I BELIEVE.

Every time I fail or struggle. Every time pain stabs me or someone I care about. Every time darkness seems to be winning here or around the world. Every time I don’t know how to pray — I focus on the one who created the world, created me, and creates new life.

Then the peace comes.

“Unbelievable” –but true.

And totally liberating.

Do you struggle with faith?
Have there been times or events that made faith hard?

Seeking small graces

My health finally stabilized. And after a long recovery from hip repair surgery in November, I was walking further with my dog and playing with my grand-kids. Then something painful “popped” in my hip, and I’ve spent the last months in varying degrees of pain — walking, sitting or standing. For weeks I’ve battled an infection that made me a semi-invalid last year. My body clearly wasn’t up to the fight and I’ve had to start antibiotics. (Not simple, since I’m allergic to way too many, as well as still trying to heal my gut from last year’s antibiotic siege.) I’ve worked hard to get healthy and whole, free to engage with others, join in the lives of my family, return to teaching Bible classes, finish editing my books and complete another, to live a vibrant, meaningful life. As things seemed to be spinning out again, I’ve wondered, even prayed, “What am I doing wrong?”

If God would just tell me, I’d do it!

There must be a key.

Is there something important I’m not doing? Leaving out?

Every time this song, Thy Will by Hillary Scott, comes on the radio, my mind and emotions downshift.

When I’m working so hard to do it right, am I actually exhibiting lack of faith? After all, it’s not all about me, and I’m not God.

It’s hard to find a balance between accepting life as it comes from the hand of God, and fighting the good fight as we are called to do.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I Timothy 6:12

The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest. Exodus 14:14 AMPC

How do you thread that needle?

All I can do is recall what I know is true.

photo by Jack H Thompson, Jr
https://www.bible.com/bible/97/psa.56

photo by Jack H Thompson, Jrhttps://www.bible.com/bible/97/jas.1

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.                                               Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG

photo by Jack H Thompson Jr

photo by Jack H Thompson Jr https://www.bible.com/bible/97/pro.19

In place of the questions, I begin a new search.

Seeking small graces.

Focusing.

Naming what comes into my life today as a gift.

Trusting the giver.

Trusting the hands that gave them.

And, in the end, remembering this life is brief.

And there’s more to each day than we can ever see or understand.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. 2 Cor 4:16-18 MSG

That is enough.

You may be facing far greater challenges now, or will in the future.
Do you struggle with chronic pain or illness or disappointment? How do you handle it, react to it?

Notes to readers:

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