Sunday, February 21, 2021

Lenten Thoughts

I want to thank Christine, a reader at Simplicity, for asking if I would post Lenten thoughts on this blog. I'm so grateful for her holy prod. Here are my thoughts right now. May they serve the One who loves us with a perfect love. Thank you, Savior.

When historians look at Lent, they point out how the religious tradition made a virtue of necessity for early medieval Europeans. The lean, dark months of the year...after the fall harvest and culls had been consumed and before the early crops could be harvested...were a time of austerity, reflection, sacrifice, a journey through the dark. 

Why not turn them into a journey to the Cross and Easter Victory? Those months sucked anyway. Sacrifice something, acknowledge Jesus' sacrifice of His very life for you, grow close to Him. 

As with many such faith disciplines, Lenten sacrifice sometimes becomes a matter of pride, the showy self-flagellation that represents virtue signaling rather than a sincere, intentional expression of discipleship. Jesus told how the Pharisees dropped fat purses into the collection for show while the poor widow quietly and humbly gave what she had. 

God saw. 

Paul had some things to say about virtue signaling, too. Have you noticed there's been a lot of that going around lately. It's not good. Never has been.

The past year has been filled with sacrifice, both large and small. We wear masks in public to protect others and matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient or awkward the consequences. We've cut vacations and big celebrations, spending money (when we have it) on better wifi and extra computer monitors to work from home instead. 

We've socially distanced and avoided hugs. We've turned trips to the grocery into our major outing of the week. We've watched (and maybe participated in) the deepening divisions in our communities, states, nation, and world. 

We've weighed risks and benefits of in-person or virtual school for our children and our families, and been uncomfortable with the decision we made. We've lost jobs or shifted to virtual work or had to go to jobs that put us at risk of getting sick. 

We've waited in our cars for hours to have swabs stuck up our noses and are waiting again to get injections in our arms. We've dropped loved ones at ERs and waited outside in our cars on rainy nights for some sort of news. We've said final good-byes via FaceTime and Zoom or not been able to say good-bye at all. We've not had funerals...or we've had them and maybe caused a few more. 

Some of us--too many--have been stuck in homes where we did not feel safe, where our children were not safe, or where food, medicine, water, heat, light, or love were in short supply. 

It's been a long and difficult haul since last Lent, and to be honest, I'm tired. Bone tired. Soul tired. And feeling guilty because my pandemic has been mostly the easy sort, certainly the safe sort, and not at all--so far and thank you, Savior--the tragic sort. 

What right do I have to whine? Yet here I am. It's not a competition, but shouldn't I be better than this? Is my faith weak? I don't think so. I'm just tired...the kind of tired that makes me want to punch toxic positivism in the face. Don't tell me to look on the bright side or pull myself up by my bootstraps. 

This just sucks, and to pretend otherwise is unhelpful. 

Years ago, I tried a Lenten practice that did not involve sacrifice but addition: I started a gratitude journal. Every day, I wrote down three things that filled me with gratitude. Some days it was hard. Some days it was easy. Almost everything I wrote down was small. Paper towels. A fingernail file. A really awesome pen. 

That practice of gratitude changed my attitude, my faith, and my life.

What I learned all those years ago is that when things get tough, when you get tired and sad and lonely and worn down by life, a helpful thing to do is practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude isn't the same as positivism or pulling yourself up by your bootstraps because gratitude doesn't ignore the mess. 

Gratitude is in the mess

Practicing gratitude is hard, though, because the weight of the mess can make lifting a pen to write down three things you're grateful for feel like climbing Everest without oxygen. 

But gratitude is the oxygen. You need it. I need it. We all need it.  

Oxygen molecules are small...tiny, really, as molecules go. They cross membranes and enter blood and make us alive. A whole bunch of very tiny molecules keep us alive.  

We need to be grateful for the small things because they add up and keep us alive. 

A text from a friend.

A dog head on your lap. 

A cup of coffee. 

A Bible verse.

A funny dog video.

A breath. In and out. Then another. 

Thank you, Savior. 

Yesterday, two different people shared memes on my FaceBook timeline within minutes of each other. They were thinking of me. Oh. My. Gosh. 

Who am I that they thought about me?!?! 

Thank you, Savior. 

Once you've got enough oxygen for yourself (and it doesn't take much, actually), you can start carrying oxygen to others. 

A text to a friend.

A gift card for groceries to someone who lost their job.

A door-drop of brownies or flowers or a book for no reason whatsoever.

A card sent with love.

A masked-up car ride to take someone to a doctor's appointment.

A text to a student to say it's okay that you're late turning in work. I understand.

Thank you, Savior. Thank you, Savior. Thank you, Savior. 

A friend had hip replacement surgery last fall. Coworkers installed a ramp in his garage at the time. He's recovered nicely, and this weekend, he and his son installed bathroom and stair handrails for an elderly friend who's coming home from the hospital, weak but improving. 

Thank you, Savior.

You can't carry oxygen for others if your own lungs are completely starved. Where's your oxygen coming from right now? What are you grateful for? How has God blessed you? 

Because God has blessed you. Even in the deepest and most profound tragedy, and even in the lightest of burdens. God has blessed you. 

Breathe it in. Breathe it out. 

At this point, too many of us are tired and running on empty. Take some deep breaths of gratitude, let them energize you a little bit, and then do something for someone else. 

Say, "Thank you, Savior." 

Then, give someone else the chance to say the same.  

Or you could just give up chocolate.