I’m glad to re-post an edited version of my sister’s writing on her Lent experience.
Post New Year. My marriage is in trouble, I have two young boys, recently started nursing school and find myself drawn into a need for God and a church. I am a little surprised at my determination to rediscover a personal faith surrounded by others who are also faithful. I have no idea how to proceed.
I do know one thing. In my quest for a simple, child-like faith, I don’t want to be like Christians; I want to be like Christ. Through a humbling series of events I become the nursery director for a small Christian Church/Disciples of Christ congregation. I am touched by the loving interest of the church family.
Week after week I listen to the sermons piped into the nursery as I watch over little ones, mine and others’. Winter gives way to rumors of spring and another season I’ve never observed: Lent. Lenten celebrations are not included in the particular Protestant church I was born into. I consider my perceptions of Lent based on people I’ve known, things I’ve heard.
“What are you giving up for Lent? Well, I’m giving up chocolate!”
“Oh, I could never do that! I’m just giving up soda.”
And there’s always the perfunctory Friday fish fry.
I listen to Pastor Becky speak about the spirit of Lent being one of prayer, penitence, the giving of offerings, and self-denial , representing and bringing close through our actions the forty days Jesus spent being tempted in the wilderness which preceded his own incomprehensible sacrifice . I understand the concept of sacrificing an indulgence. I also can’t ignore that Lent seems to have become more a competition in sacrifice. “I can give up more than yoooou…” Nanny-nanny-boo-boo.
My heart insists I will not find for myself the true meaning of Lent this way, but that I need to take part. What shall I give up that will refocus me on Jesus, on His spirit of commitment to the road he had yet to travel—whether or not it was what He wanted. He sought connection and worship over comfort. I turn to God for an idea, partly as an experiment and even a little of a challenge (will I really get anything??)
The answer dawns on me with clarity and electricity: negativity. Negativity? Really?! I am incredulous (and honestly a little embarrassed. Who can I tell about this?!) Negativity is truly the opposite of Jesus and exactly what so many seem to have let Lent become—a complainer’s paradise.
My mind races to unwrap this unexpected gift, and I find I am excited. What so often comes between us and recognizing the valuable, sometimes difficult gifts and lessons of Jesus? How does the world prevent us from fully seeing, believing and experiencing what God offers us in the face of hard times? How do we often respond to the blessings and good fortune of others? I have the worst luck! Why do terrible things keep happening to me?! What did I do to deserve this?! My life sucks! Me, me, me. I, I, I.
So, in my perception of the spirit of Lent, I give up negativity. First I notice what comes out of my mouth and trace that back to my thoughts and opinions of others. “Wow, he sure is negative!” I observe, and laugh sheepishly to myself; I am just the same. I slowly learn that recognition is only the beginning. This must be a complete attitude shift.
The ‘action’ phase of this experiment is what counselors like to call “reframing.” Consciously reframe each negative, judgmental thought as a positive thought. “She had no right to treat me that way,” becomes, “Something seems really wrong, I hope she’s okay.” I find I am, through a means I did not expect, learning to walk in the shoes of others. I discover that I am much more aware of those around me than I was before—and I had prided myself on my empathy. I slip into the habit of offering up a silent prayer for others who are in dire straits because it is the only thing I can do and I have to do something. This habit surreptitiously sneaks into the rest of my life and I repeat it whenever someone pops into my head. I discover by experience what “intercessor” means.
I learn that negativity is largely rooted in insecurity, self-importance, loneliness and fear. These represent our temptations, our forty days in the wilderness, our comfort level, what keep us from truly seeking Jesus. He is the security in this world where we are never alone nor do we have to solve everything because He’s already the solution. I learn that as my heart softens and opens, my own seemingly unrelated questions start finding answers and, just as importantly to me, new questions.
And something else entirely unexpected happens: I heal. The fear and hopelessness in my own life give way to trust—not that what I think I want will happen, but that I will not be alone through whatever is ahead. I sense on a minute scale the peace written of Jesus as He heads into Passion Week, the peace that whatever’s next is not up to me—in fact, it’s none of my business. My part is to give it up and continually seek Jesus for strength and grace, trusting in the guidance we’ve all been promised.
Easter. During the outdoor sunrise service, cuddling my smaller son from the morning chill, I feel an immense sense of gratitude as I realize that deep in my center there is a quiet and steady hope. Shortly after, I enter my little church and peak into the sanctuary full of lilies and drapes in royal blues and purples. I smile—truly smile—at those I meet. I know that the future will not be easy, but I will never be alone. Tears fill my eyes, heart overflowing, as I turn the corner to my left and head down the hall to the nursery.
2008 Lisa Boyd Bowen
Where am I now? Growth and development are nonlinear. Some days I’m further along, some days I feel I’m starting over. I always know, however, that even when I feel I’m back at the beginning, my game piece isn’t alone on square one. (Sometimes knowing intellectually is all I have because the warm, cozy feelings and the “a ha” moments just aren’t there.) I find, though, that I “get it back” quicker, gain a new insight, am basically reassured that sticking with the process is just as important–and perhaps the same thing as–the destination. He said He’ll never leave us nor forsake us; I’m banking on that.