Heh, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I stared at the cacophony at my feet. I could just see my kids cramming all that stuff in there, one of them holding the door shut as the other wrapped the rubber band around the knobs. When I picked them up from school, I looked at them in the rearview mirror and told them that I found that curious rubber band around the knob of the craft cupboard. I saw them pass a quick glance, and my five-year-old son looked at me with a grin and asked eagerly, “Did you open it?” When I told them I did, my son leaned forward and asked with wide eyes, “What happened?” When I told them, they both dissolved into giggles (you know, the ones that are priceless to parents). Of course, I told them, they would have to clean it up when they got home. Which they did only after oo-ing and ahh-ing at their handiwork spread across the floor.
Later, I couldn’t help but think of how apropos that whole incident was to my current state of life. I’m not sure if it’s just the hangover from the winter holidays, the bouts with illness we’ve had recently or the off-kilter schedule my kids have had with school, but my life feels a lot like that cupboard.
In all that mess and hecticness, however, I’ve also been contemplating the season of Lent. And after the cupboard incident, it dawned on me just how good an opportunity was at hand to take some steps to get the cupboard of my own life straightened up again.
According to Wikipedia, the purpose of Lent is to prepare believers for the events surrounding Easter and generally incorporates three practices: prayer, fasting and charity. However, once you research a little deeper, it doesn't take long to realize it’s approached in a wide variety of ways among believers. Some adhere to strict doctrinal guidelines while others practice it more creative ways; some don't practice it at all. (I myself took a “media fast” one year—not watching any television and limiting my daily online time to e-mail and a few minutes of news and weather—while using the time I’d normally do those things to increase spiritual disciplines like prayer and Scripture reading. It was a great experience that I highly recommend, by the way.)
As I contemplated this year’s Lent and my current life, I gained some insight from an article at Christianity Today in which Sherwood E. Wirt wrestles with getting at the heart of how we can embrace the practice today:
The real challenge facing the believer is not, therefore, "What shall I give up for Lent?" but rather, "How can I be filled with the Spirit?" Perhaps that sounds too simplistic. The New Testament quite often comes across that way.I resonate with Wirt’s ruminations on Lent. As followers of Jesus, we must constantly pull our lives into examination, not just at one season of the year. And, like Wirt, I’m grateful Lent is here, because I need it. For me, it’s a well-timed opportunity to do that kind of examination as well as contemplate the use of spiritual disciplines—those ways God’s given us to cooperate with him in experiencing his grace and transformation—in growing deeper in my relationship with him to be the person he created and enables me to be.
In one of his letters Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Herman) writes: "It is a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times; we are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer. … I made this my business as much all the day long as at the appointed time of prayer; for at all times, every hour, every minute, even in the height of my business, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God. As for my set hours of prayer, they are only a continuation of the same exercise."
. . . . Do Spirit-filled Christians need to look into their personal lives? Of course they do. We all become careless. We all tend to forget our obligations and to ignore those we should be remembering. We all need a fresh look at the cross.
So what shall we do with Lent? One place to begin might be with our Lord's instruction to his disciples that "they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father." We could consider Lent a time of waiting to get our priorities in order. Then we could move to the Apostle Paul's injunction, "Be filled with the Spirit!" If we approach it in this fashion, Lent can become a beautiful and deeply moving experience of walking spiritually with Jesus on his pilgrimage to the cross. For as John tells us, be went to the cross not only to bear our sin but that he
might send us his Spirit.
Whether we keep the specific observances or not depends on many contingent factors-some of them personal, some related to background and upbringing. I need Lent. I hope to be in my church on Ash Wednesday as a worshiper. As Brother Lawrence suggests, what really matters is not our prayers but Jesus. He keeps us in a round-robin inventory. He takes our Lent, lengthens it, and makes it a blessing all the year around.
So, I started by examining my life: Where was my time being spent? How was I being distracted from living out of the Spirit? What is distracting me from living in the present in God’s presence? What is keeping me from paying attention and loving those around me? Where could I do more of that paying attention and loving? What can I do with the opportunity of Lent to cooperate with God in experiencing his grace and transformation? In other words, what is there in my realm of power that I can do to work with God in loving him, experience his love for me and loving others more?
After talking it over with my husband, spending some time asking God for guidance, considering Wirt’s words above and using traditional Lent focuses as a guide, I decided to undertake the following:
1. Between now and Easter, I will limit my time watching television, blogging and Flickr-ing—which are, not surprisingly, the things I spend a great deal of time on. These things aren’t vices (at least in my humble opinion), but they are areas that are currently straining against my cupboard door with a little too much gusto. I could stand to be a bit more disciplined in those areas. So, during the Lent season, three days a week will be completely void of those activities.Interestingly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as this list developed it more or less fell in line with some resolutions I made earlier this year. Heh, these do seem to be some of the areas in me in which God is inviting me to work with him.
2. In place of the time I would normally undertake those activities, I hope to focus on a couple of things to decrease my focus on me and increase my focus on God and others. First, every day I plan to intentionally refocus on paying attention to those around me—being in the room with whomever I’m with. Also, I plan to take portions of those days between now and Easter to reorder our finances and go through our possessions in order to give more of it away. I want to refocus more on seeing all the stuff we have as resources to be used in the Kingdom—as things I’ve collected along the way that can be used by others.
3. In addition, I plan to spend portions of those days in the gospels and Acts contemplating Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit. And, as we are currently gathering with other believers at an Anglican church, I’m also going to participate in a daily personal prayer order of worship based on The Book of Common Prayer. I want to do this not only to learn a new discipline of prayer but also as a way to get to know better the brothers and sisters with whom I’m crossing paths these days.
It may not be the traditional way to approach Lent, but it’s an opportunity to work with God to develop some better habits and get rid of some bad ones—to live more the way I am enabled and created to live. My cupboard is somewhat messy, so I’m glad Lent has come around when it has—and I’m hoping what I do now will stretch out with fruit into the rest of the year. That does seem to be the way things work in this kingdom of God’s.