Monday, February 11, 2008

Lent struggles

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, a time of self-denial that symbolically parallels the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness. The Lenton season ends Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurection of Jesus.
But back to the personal meaning of Lent and all this self denial talk. This year I didn't want to do what I have done in the past. One year I gave up TV, another I gave up MySapce and sugar, and I think I did all three last year, but I can't really remember. These habits I gave up for 40 days (actually more if your counting Sunday's) were good for me. However the purpose of denying myself these things was supposed to draw me nearer to God - in essence, force myself to focus on God and call on him for strength. Instead of spending time reading the Bible or praying during the times that I would be participating in the activities I denied myself, I spent my time doing other unproductive things or eating other unhealthy snacks (enter salty/savory goodness). Clearly Lent wasn't working the way in which it was intended (like many other religious practices and me).This year, I hope will be different.

This year I spent almost a week mulling over the possible things I could give up. As I am trying to be healthy (ok, maybe it's because I'm paying for a personal trainer and I'm sick of looking at more of me than there should be), I thought about giving up unhealthy foods... namely chocolate or other sugary goodness. However, this shouldn't be something that I give up for lent to be spiritual, but rather something I should give up to be healthy and not simply for 40 days. So sugar/chocolate was a no go. Then there was internet related habits... facebook, podcasts, email, blogs, google (ok I only just thought of that... yikes that would be scary), but surprisingly I don't feel too addicted (ok that might be a small lie), but lately they have been tools that I have been using in deepening my relationship with God rather than sucking it dry, so I chose not give those up. My next thought was to add a discipline, you know the normal, reading the Bible, praying daily, meditating... all that good stuff. As I have tried making those disciplines happen for new years resolutions or other such "commitment" days, I decided those were yet another thing that I couldn't just add for the sake of needing something to give up or do. By Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) I was at a loss. I really wanted to do something meaningful.

I jokingly thought I should give up bitterness, but then I thought about it. Bitterness tends to get in the way of my relationship with anyone, especially God. I tend to use it as a defense mechanism, and a reason for not being open to different forms of worship or praise. I've noticed in the past few years I have built this wall that has stopped me from really enjoying the diversity in which people express their relationship with God. Ok wow, that sentence is way too spiritual for any earthly good. Let me unpack that, as I will mostlikely forget what I was trying to say.

Enjoying the diversity in which people express their relationship with God... Let me try and put it into an unchristianese format (as it is not necessary to understand Christianese to be a good Christian... sounds like a good future blog post). Every person has a different way they like to interact with God. Like how people pray... some pray with large words and intensity, others with a specific voice, some call God different names like Daddy (I have a hard time with this, but that's my issue, not theirs), some even pray in tongues (a different, spiritual, language that some parts of the church don't believe is a modern spiritual gift and others do). Those different ways of prayer show diversity in how people communicate to God through prayer. Worship is the same way, you've got hymnal books, "contemporary worship music," brass bands, acapella, gospel, dancing, flags, the list goes on. Again, another example of diversity in how we express our relationship with God.

I get frustrated when people put their relationship with God in a box - when they feel that there is only one way to have a relationship with God. Then again, I tend to have my relationship with God in a similar box. I want to interact with God in a particular way, and if someone else says I'm doing it wrong, or I should do it differently, or with more or less of whatever I get frustrated - no, bitter. This bitterness starts out small, then grows into an ugly beast that pretty much strangles any hope of a good relationship with both people and God. I was getting so offended by people who made me feel that my relationship with God was inadequate I just became bitter about the whole situation and stopped being open to they ways that they experienced God. So my hasty half serious thought about giving up bitterness took root, and grew into my serious Lent commitment. I will deny myself the ability to become bitter.

Well it's been less than a week, and I have had to take some very big steps to start cutting bitterness out of my life. I've had to endure Women's camp (which wasn't bad at all), work on a relationship with someone who hurt me (I again was reminded that grace is freely given to God, and that I should be willing to at least entertain the idea of viewing people from that perspective), and I am going to try out a different way of worshiping and praying tomorrow evening. I can't say I haven't slipped along the way. I have had moments of bitterness and frustration, but I have sincerely tried to put those aside and simply allow God to put me in the right place at the right time, and keep my mind open to how He wants me to respond.

My roommate left a prayer in my purse last Tuesday night (the day before Lent began). She didn't intend for it to be something that I would focus on during this season, rather for encouragement after she heard about the day I had. Looking back on this past week, I am tempted to believe that God very purposely planned out this Lent season for me. I hope I am hearing him correctly.

Prayer for Peace
Lord, preserve me from fighting your battle in my own strength. May I never pull up the precious wheat with the tares. May I triumph, not by frantic striving with the forces of evil, but by keeping my eyes securely fastened on You.
I ask that you make of me an expert peacemaker. Help me, in the power of the Spirit, to clear the path of obstacles to making Your peace - real peace - in Your Body here on earth.
-Leanne Payne

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