No joke, I could employ someone nearly full-time JUST to deal with my family’s health issues. It’s not that we’re a super sick bunch! But, it all adds up! My daughter, who broke her ankle in three places, right after Christmas, is STILL in an orthopedic boot and needing regular trips to the specialist. This same lovely child, also has ear issues, so has been making near weekly trips to the ENT. Just this morning, she asked me at the breakfast table, if I could make her an appointment with the Pediatrician, to freeze off a plantar wart. (Side-note: am I the only mom who’s given up eating breakfast on school days? Just give me my STRONG coffee, so I can be half awake to drive you to school. I’ll eat when I get you little monsters, I mean loves, to school.). Anyways, my middle child is at the orthodontist almost weekly, these days. Thank God for my youngest, who has zero health issues….well, that we’ve noticed. That kid has learned out of necessity, how to ‘go with the flow’.
This is the first year that my three kids have been at school ALL day, so you would think that I’d have tons of time as a stay at home mom. Think again. Life is still crazy, whether it’s with these never-ending doctor and dentist visits, in addition to the usual assortment of after school activities. Every mom, whether she works in or out of the home, can tell you that the BUCK STOPS WITH US, when it comes to family life. When you learn that cute kid who came over yesterday has lice, guess who does 20 loads on the sanitary cycle THAT DAY? MOM. When you need someone to take you to the doctor to get that wart frozen off, who takes you? MOM.
This is not intended to be a slight to men. My husband is an amazing cook. From the first day my kids entered this world, he’s been the designated nail clipper. (I’ll never forget him showing up at the hospital with about 3 baby clippers, not sure which one would be best for our little bundle – we all remember how sharp yet how delicate those tiny fingers nails can be!). He helps around the house and he’s an excellent provider. But, at any given moment, it’s MOM who carries the insanely long ‘to do’ list related to the people they love. We never stop running, for there is always someone or something to catch.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. What is lent? Not too long ago, I could not have told you. As I’ve written here, I grew up Pentecostal. We did not follow a liturgical calendar. Heck, we doubted Catholics were true Christians, and were probably not going to heaven, since they weren’t ‘born again’, as we were. I’ve come a long way since then! These days, whether it’s the writings of Nadia Boltz-Weber or the latest statements from Pope Francis, I’ve found my brothers and sisters from the Catholic and Episcopal faiths to be some of the most inspiring and faith-filled figures in Christianity today. Yet, the Liturgical Calendar eludes me.
Since it was never my practice to eat fish on Fridays or celebrate Lent, I’ve often given myself a ‘free pass’ on these traditions, even as I’ve attended a Presbyterian church for the last 10 years, where services for Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday (among others) are offered. But, as I pursue a deeper, more authentic faith, I have to ask myself, ‘why not’? Why not practice Lent?
What is Lent?
Part of the reason I didn’t practice Lent, is because I didn’t understand it. Ignorance isn’t always bliss – often, it’s just ignorance. And, this is also true in faith. So, here’s the answer: Lent is an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter. I love the way Katelyn Beaty describes it, with what it is NOT, in her recent Christianity Today article:
Lent is not about making ourselves miserable for its own sake, inflicting pain for sins committed throughout the year….The crazy and wonderful news is that, in Christ, we have been declared fit before God….A Lenten observance without this knowledge can easily reinforce common Protestant critiques (and caricatures) of Catholic or Catholic-ish rituals.
Beaty goes on, quoting Puritan theologian, John Owen, to explain what Lent IS:
Lent can become a practice in calling Christians to mortification instead of believing. It goes without saying, anyone who chooses to observe Lent must do so in a way that puts front and center “the power of God and the mystery of the gospel.”
Now, I understand lent to be a season for remembering, in word and deed, the primary pillars of the gospel. One of the pillars I hold most dear, is grace. But, grace can so easily be cheapened when we skip confession. Confession is at the heart of today, Ash Wednesday. Nadia Boltz-Weber explains this first day of lent:
Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone. We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: “Remember that you are dust and to dust and to dust you will return.” It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.
Truth showed up big time, over a recent cup of coffee at Mademoiselle Colette. We were supposed to be having a ‘happy birthday’ luncheon. But, somehow, we ended up talking about death. We talked about our own mortality and that of people we love…about what really matters and whether we’re living our lives and raising our families in ways that align with our core beliefs and values. And, I don’t mean this in the way Christians often interpret *values* or *morality*…that I don’t swear or drink too much alcohol or skip church….I mean it more in the, do I pray for those that offend me (Donald Trump) or do I give sacrificially to those in need (even those of a different religion, like Muslim refugees) or am I willing to see my comfortable life get turned upside down for the sake of justice and mercy (to advocate for the undocumented or fight racism)? Lately, I’m leaning into the prickly places.
I intentionally said ‘lean’ and not ‘jump’. I am not jumping into these things. Control freaks, like me, rarely jump. But, I am leaning. Serving lunch to the homeless has been one of the ways I’m trying to ‘lean into’ loving the least. But, let’s be clear – God’s still got a lot of work to do in me. Here’s an embarrassing example. The homeless shelter has asked that volunteers, like me, fill out a bunch of forms. I mean…A BUNCH. I’ve still not finished my Live Scan (background check) or the TB test, because, honestly, it’s inconvenient. I’ve not had time. This weekend, I was running through my mental checklist for the week, and remembered these two items for the shelter, which I STILL need to do. And, there was this moment, when my thoughts went to that dark place….“they’re JUST homeless people….why must I do so much for THEM….I don’t even do that much to volunteer at school!!!!!”
Not pretty, I know.
But, sometimes we need to see the truth in ourselves. In the next moment, God quietly and gently reminded me of just how much He loves them (the homeless who come to the shelter). He reminded me of the posts I’ve written, where I waxed eloquent on the immeasurable worth of each one of us, and how God’s gospel, over and over again, is one of love for the least….for that is where God’s heart is. He reminded me of the truth I know, but so often forget.
Who needs Lent? Me.
So, how to practice lent when you don’t have any traditions, and you REALLY don’t want to give up chocolate, coffee or wine for 4o days? Well, a couple of days ago, the same friend who invited me to the shelter, posted a link on Facebook to a movement centered around Lent, called 40 Acts of Generosity. She asked folks to join her. Confession (yes, another one): my first thought was, I’m too busy, and I really don’t want to fail. Not only am I a control freak, but I’m also a perfectionist. If I’m going to sign-up, I want to get an A, goddamnit. But, today, God tugged at my heart with a tenderness I don’t deserve. He nudged me to go back to the link, and just check it out. As I watched the video, I realized that this was the kind of thing I was saying I wanted to build my life and faith around….now, here was a chance to bridge the ‘knowing/doing’ gap….to turn my words into action. So, I’ve signed up!
A Different Denial
In writing this post, I stumbled upon an article published today in the Washington Post, titled, Seriously, I am giving up Donald Trump for Lent. Here’s how. Reading it, I knew – this is something I need to do. Diana Butler Bass writes, “In recent years, more of my friends have taken something distracting out of their life to add a practice that is more life-giving.” She explains WHY Donald Trump, confessing, “For the past three months, I had gone to bed thinking about the president and often woke up in the morning doing the same. I realized my soul had been politically colonized, and that it was taking huge effort to think and talk about other things with family and friends.”
When I read this, I immediately thought of the wise words a friend, who recently told me it was okay, even as you seek God’s guidance on where He wants you in the world, to pull away for a time. She encouraged me to simply draw near to God, that maybe my life and present pursuit were starving me of His love. I know, I know, I know….this sounds like typical ‘Christianese Speak’. But, I assure you , it was not; she read my heart and offered me an invitation to let God find me in the midst of a difficult faith season. Lately, I question why evangelicals are silent when the world is hurting or how I can best to navigate conversations with my own pastors about what the role of the church should be, etc. or if my ‘best yes’ is in partnering with community organizations, rather than the usual ‘church service projects’???? As I grapple with these questions, and more, she gave me two great questions to ponder:
Lord, who are you?
Where are you?
Another dear friend, who loves me like a sister, unilaterally decided that the two of us would do an NT Wright study of Romans. And, can I just insert here, that while I hate what’s happening in our country and the suffering across the globe, I cannot deny the way God has rallied the most dear friends during these difficult times? I’m not sure we would have bonded the way we have, if we weren’t collectively heartbroken for the same things. Anyways, back to the study…. we are just beginning, but this season of Lent is surely a time for shifting my gaze away from the words….countless tweets and articles… things that are not life-giving… to digging deep into the Word. I am reminded so clearly of WHO God is and WHERE He is.
To go back to ‘Giving up Trump’…. I like the way Diana offers a nuanced approach to this abstinence. Lord knows, a political junkie like me might not survive a complete severing with all current events ties. She explains:
Politics is about finding new connections between people and working for the common good. If I stop fretting over a single individual, I can be more engaged in creating a community where love of neighbor matters. That is the purpose of Lent: giving up distraction and finding space for what gives life.
This sounds like Lent, to me. It is what my soul needs for a season. In 41 days, I will return. God did not make me to perpetually put my head in the sand. But, today, I will make space for God’s love to lean into me.
Come as you are party
I will start with confession, and then move to a place of surrender to the power of God’s love and mystery of the gospel. Out of that, I pray there’s a sincere outpouring of generosity. I’m gonna give the 40 Acts my best shot. Another confession: I’m sure to miss a few days. But, I’m trying to be okay with the fact that this isn’t about ticking boxes – it’s about cultivating discipleship and practicing love. It’s about remembering that God actually loves me. As Anne Lamott tweeted on All Things Considered (for my fellow NPR lovers): “God loves us absolutely unconditionally as is. It’s a come as you are Party.” God takes us, plantar warts, and all. When we’re ready to stop running, He’s ready to catch us. The cross, which is what Lent prepares us for, is God catching us – now, and forever.