Monday, March 12, 2012

Spiritual Practice vs. Self-Improvement

I decided to try something a little different for Lent this year. I am attempting to give up complaining. When you work in ministry and the bulk of your job is finding volunteers and dealing with people, this may have been a most impossible task.

At first, I noticed how much I do it. Then I just kept my mouth shut almost all the time. Then I began to realize that when people close to me (i.e. the ones I can confide in about the struggles of ministry) asked me how I was doing, I had to turn to "lying" in a sense - I couldn't complain. What used to be "I'm really struggling" as an answer, turned into "I'm okay" I knew by answering the first way would lead to complaining.

Even now, I feel like I'm complaining.

I've also been struggling with the idea of Lent this year in general... I wrote a 6 week curriculum called "The Purpose and Practice of Lent" that the Topical Adult Class is doing on Sunday mornings now.

I spent a good part of February researching and writing for the class and it has given me some different perspectives on what I've made Lent out to be and what it actually is. It's not really that I had it wrong - for it is, indeed, about sacrifice. But over the years I neglected one very particularly moving aspect of Lent - the journey. The journey of walking with Christ in the desert. A journey where the sacrifice was not the end-game, but the whole point in the first place.

As I was finishing up the curriculum, a friend from college posted a on his blog about Lent and I ended up pondering a particular part of his post: "The stuff we tend to give up for Lent is the stuff you should give up anyway. "Fasting (what we typically mean when we talking of “giving something up”) is not about doing without “something you LOVE,” but doing without something you need. We should be limiting our chocolate and alcohol intake anyway, " he wrote. Which, at first, led me to a lot of righteous indignation. But my pattern is that I always start there when I someone is right and convicting me in my own sin and I simply don't want to admit it.

Then the kicker (for me) of what he wrote: "If you’re anything like me, you have to fight making spiritual practice into a self-improvement project." What is so often all too easy for me to do is make it all about me. That's what I've done with Lent, while cloaking it in the idea that I'm making a sacrifice for my Lord.

So my journey of not complaining this Lenten season has been a bit frustrating. At first the idea of "giving up" complaining was a compromise. To me, it was also about taking on a spirit of joy and contentment I needed to project to those around me. But i do believe I've failed.

In the beginning of the season, it was about how much I felt myself do it, and consciously having to stop. And now that's turned into I may not even notice I'm doing it anymore - which is more bad than the first thing. This is where I'm at on my journey, and I am searching for a way for that block on my heart to be removed, so that, ironically, I can guard my heart against my own sin.

You can read the complete post from my college friend here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Prayer for Lent from the Book of Common Prayer

O God, your glory is always to have mercy.
Be gracious to all who hve gone astray from your ways,
and bring them wih penitent hearts and steadfast faith
to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word,
Jesus Christ your Son,
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reighns,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.