I remember whining to Rick about my inability to sustain a running habit. He said to me something like ‘just make sure you start over one more time than you quit’. I can’t say I’ve started over with running again, but I have taken advantage of Daylight Savings to be up walking early again. It is nice to start the day with 5,000 steps to my credit.
When it comes to Lenten Disciplines, I have a bad habit there, too. I usually bite off more than I can chew. Instead of a discipline, I have 9-10 things I want to do. And overwhelming myself is a regular consequence of poor Lenten planning. The other part is that I start poorly. So it is that Monday of the first week of Lent is usually when I begin.
I start with these confessions to say this: the purpose of Lent is not perfection. The purpose of Lent is to simply draw nearer to God. The prayer, the confessions, the service, the reading, the giving-up and the taking-on are all methods of drawing one closer to God. May I illustrate that point more clearly?
When we say draw nearer to God, it’s not like God is far away. We don’t have to chase God as if God is like the puppy who squeezed through the hole in the fence. It’s more like God is the mama dog who opens herself up so her pups can snuggle in and keep warm and well-fed. Drawing closer to God is our snuggling response to this invitation.
In human terms, drawing closer does require our effort and response to God. Furthermore, drawing closer to God requires both an inward turn and an outward turn. The inward turn is about examining our lives, asking God ‘what unsavory things still live within me?’ And ‘how can I be healed of this unsavory-ness?’ The outward turn is related. It is about examining our world: seeing suffering and unsavory-ness around us. It is also about asking God: ‘are you asking me to be part of their healing?’
For me, my Lenten discipline is contained in this bag. Our three Lenten study offerings (We Make the Road by Walking by Brian McClaren; God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines; and me and white supremacy workbook by layla f saad) plus a morning devotional (A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants here’s a version for laypeople by Reuben Job), the Upperroom Worship Book (which has better singing options than the Job guide) and this weirdly designed devotional packet called Trek by the Mennonite Central Committee (out of print) which I got a long time ago and never finished. I’m also fasting lunch several times a week because I just am too dang heavy. I also have cut out caffeine. I also eliminated Twitter and SimCity Buildit from my phone because they are terribly distracting.
I share this not to brag. In fact, I am absolutely violating Jesus command to keep such disciplines private. But I do so with several good reasons:
- I want you to know that I struggle with things. Sometimes the pastoral presentation is a facade (which I think is French for fake). Sometimes when I screw up in church, I get thoroughly embarrassed. I’m just also very good at laughing it off. But I struggle with food, privilege, disorganization and courage. Perhaps if you know I struggle, you can feel less alone in your struggles.
- I want you to know that I want to get better. When I talk about striving for perfection, I’m often preaching to myself. Because I still desire to get closer to God. Perhaps letting you in on these things, I can be more accountable to you.
- I want you to know that starting Lent late is better than not starting at all. I’m genuinely NOT keeping score as to who is the more disciplined Christian out there and I don’t think God is either. Simply, God would be overjoyed for you to respond to Her invitation in any way!
- I want you to know that making an effort is an act of love. So God honors our genuine efforts.
- I want you to know that the church is here to help you. At first I thought, “oh it’s cheating for me to count things that I’m already doing for church.” But I then remembered that church is what taught me to pursue God with fear and trembling anyhow. It’s human to need help and accountability. Perhaps this can help you remember that the church is here for you. You can ask us for help; you can complain when we fail; you can expect us to be there for you.
So, Lent…jump right in and be kind to yourself. In what ways are you drawing closer to God this season?