Do you ever have that experience that everything you read in books, blogs, the Bible, hear in sermons or from sage friends seems to have the same message? I've been around this block enough times to know that this is no accident. This is not coincidence; It's providence.
I've been contemplating Lent. Let me qualify by saying I did not grow up in a faith community that practiced lent. When I went away to Calvin College, I always attended the Ash Wednesday chapel services with interest in the tradition. This idea of "giving up" something in preparation for Easter fascinated me. I got in line to have the ash cross smeared across my forehead and prayed for a window to my Father's World.
In recent years, I have made sort of secret vows, personal challenges. Last year, I shared only with my husband my promise to stay off Facebook once a week. Honestly, it felt kind of like a dumb one to publicize but I knew that I needed to curb my screen time and social networking addiction. I love the connections Facebook creates, the ability to network with friends in my community, in other lands and from my past. But when I start thinking in status updates I know it's time to press the reset button. Every Sunday I decided to take a break and pray more, listen to my kids more, pay attention to the neglected items in my home. I realized by Easter that I needed that practice so much that I made it stick. One year.
Now Lent is back and I'm really thinking, why "give up" something for Lent? What do we really learn from depriving ourselves of Twitter or chocolate or wine? What's the point?
Ann Voskamp, author of the book I've had my nose in for the last month, wrote a very revealing blog about Lent. I appreciated her thesis that "a lent that fails actually succeeds." Ann writes, "Lent. It’s the preparing the heart for Easter. Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to ugly face with our enemy. Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice.”
That quote struck a cord with me. It's not about the resolution like it's a New Year or something. It's about sacrifice, walking the journey with my Lord, learning his ways, feeling the dust on His feet.
I know I'm a bit behind since Ash Wednesday was two weeks ago but I'm diving in because I know I need more character refining, soul-cleansing.
I've been praying, Lord, what should I give you? What can I offer that is sacrifice and mess and badly needing mending in my life. Be careful what you ask in prayer because sometimes the answer will come shouting back at you.
My Tuesday morning Bible study has been driven by Beth Moore's "Living By the Spirit." Wouldn't you know that the last two weeks has been a focus on Self-Control? Specifically, I was convicted by a section that talks about the need to control our minds and our mouths. Our memory verse for the week: "A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue." (Proverbs 17:27-28).
And then last night I let my tongue tumble. My husband made some benign comment and I took it in the totally wrong and negative direction. Before I knew it we were having intense fellowship (no, not the good kind) and as usual I was winning the showdown. You see, I know how to use my words. It's a dangerous gift (curse). All my years of writing and public speaking and debate are an unfair advantage I have against my husband, my kids.
I, too, am a wretched Mama. I know after a piling and piling and piling of little offenses, reminders, more reminders that my kids can push me to that level where I will yield my words as a sharp weapon. My words spill, and I pierce with tongue, exasperate baby souls.
Before bed last night I happened upon a blog by Shauna Niequist, another of my favorite writers. She nakedly shares her journey of giving up "negative words" for Lent. No joke. All of these messages were relating. She writes, "No negative words--no complaining, no criticism, no passing on annoyances or reporting other people's shortcomings. In the space that's created, use words to affirm, to celebrate, to express gratitude." And this too, will be part of my training, my preparation for the mission field, for Haiti - a place full of harsh words, broken realities, people desperately needing Jesus like me.
Tonight we shared a meal with our Life Group - a collection of four families from our church that meet together every other week for a meal and time to build community. We just started a new video series about marriage. The speaker was Gary Thomas, author of the life-changing book, Sacred Marriage. We were challenged to think about the idea that "God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy." Our group read this book together years ago. Ericlee and I always give the book as a gift at weddings. And the reminder pierced me again. Maybe I need to adjust my lens again. Maybe I need to remember that it's my character that needs refining, not everyone around me. Maybe I'm the one who needs to hold my tongue and examine my heart.
Ok, I'm hearing the message loud and clear. This one even relates back to my focus on the discipline thanksgiving from last month. If I can control my mind, tongue and replace negative words with thankfulness, gratitude to my husband, affirmation of my kids and my friends, maybe I could experience a little more of Jesus' journey. It's not as much about giving up as it is about offering up my weakest spots. I've decided: I'm giving up the negative, controlling words and offering up gratitude - from now until Easter and hopefully beyond.
I am relenting to lent.