Lent...that time of year, when liturgical Christians use forty days (more of less...that Sunday thing throws it off a bit) to deepen their spirituality, refocus their faith, and shed those skins that aren't very merciful or loving. Or they give up chocolate. I get why people give up chocolate - it's much easier than deep soul work. And truthfully, less painful.
So, if you're keeping Lent by giving up chocolate or coffee or soft drinks, good for you. You're keeping Lent, which is more than many people do this time of year. And, if you're looking to dig a bit deeper into the work of the Spirit, good for you, too. Christianity is not a competitive sport (unless it's Lent Madness, which is another post...).
So, in my perfect world, what would I give up for Lent? Well...
1. Stop comparing my back-stage rehearsals with every one else's polished performance. This, I've discovered, is a recipe for seeing ourselves as less than in a profoundly unhelpful way. A friend who models says to prepare for a photo shoot takes between 2 and 5 hours, depending on the stylist. Before a big photo shoot, she usually diets for a month or so and works out every day...with a paid trainer. Then add the airbrushing and the retouches, and THAT'S the picture that ends up on the magazine cover when we look at it and think, "Wow, maybe I'm a frump." That's her polished performance. I've seen her when she's on vacation and isn't in a makeup chair for hours. Yes, she's quite attractive. And yes, she gets zits and has wrinkles and has no idea what color her hair really is. She also can't cook...at all. And struggles with all of the same insecurities we do like the dimples that get airbrushed off her thighs and if she's really forgiven her ex-husband. That doesn't make the magazine cover. Everyone is a beautiful mess. Everyone. Remember that next time we begin to think we aren't enough because we've compared our messy selves to our image of someone else's "perfect" self.
2. Recognizing our addiction. Richard Rohr makes the very correct observation that we are all addicted to something. Some of us just have more socially acceptable addictions, like addictions to perfection, to cultivating our own power, or to refuse to heal from our wounds. The twelve steps are amazingly useful guides for all of us. Before we whisper behind someone's back about him being a recovering alcoholic or her struggle with painkillers, perhaps we should recognize the amazing courage it takes for someone to be so public with their back-stage beautiful messes. And we could be thankful for their twelve steps that can help all of us own our addictions. Be warned: taking the time and facing the truth of our addictions is not fun. We have to admit we have one...or a few. Then we must be willing to do something about them.
3. Knowing the beginning is a real fine place to start. Being a beginner is an act of courage. Admitting that we don't know how or why, having to depend on others to teach and guide us, is hard. Yet our other option for those times in our lives when we travel a road we've never walked before is either to admit we are beginning or to lie. Yep, those are our choices. Being a beginner means we have to admit our own frailties and our own uncertainties. We have to admit we don't know everything. We have to make mistakes...several, probably, before we might even be at novice level. We might even have to admit that others have things to teach us. So, we can either never learn or experience anything new (which I think means we quit living) or we can practice being beginners. Honest beginners. Who mess things up, make mistakes, and then go, "Wow!"
4. Remembering that everyone I meet is fighting a hard battle, and also remembering that the hard fight with whatever is broken, wounded, addicting, and painful in your life is not an excuse to weaponize your own pain and wound me. Do so, and you will not be invited to play in my sandbox.
5. Trusting in the slow work of God. God may have called into creation the entire universe in seven days and resurrected Christ in three, but believe me when I say that those are the speediest God has worked. God sees the end from the beginning, and is in no hurry to get there. We are lucky if we're even able fully to see the moment we are actually living in. Each step of the journey leads somewhere. We will wander, take long walks to seemingly dry wells, collapse in our exhaustion, get up, and wander some more. And then at some point, we see the fullness of the journey, stand in awe and amazement for a while, and then we begin again.
6. Winning championships does not make a person a horsewoman, so the saying goes. Being a horse person is far more than blue ribbons. In fact, if we only judged horse people on the championships, we'd be lacking in true horse people who work faithfully with these beautiful creatures, who clean stalls after long days, and who welcome colts into the world and mourn when old friends run through the meadow for the final time. By extension, having the biggest and/or richest church does not validate your priesthood. Having a huge budget or the most outreach programs or whatever blue ribbon we might use to feel accomplished doesn't make us Christians or priests or ministers. Being faithful to love does that. Failing and trying again does that. Cleaning up messes with grace does that. Sitting with someone in the final hours of life as we weep and mourn does that. Enjoy the blue ribbons when they come, but don't use them as our sole source of validation for our lives in ministry.
7. Everything...everything...is filled with the eternal possibilities of good and bad. Either/or is so much easier than the range of in between. Everything, from worship music to ashes to go to that certain person who pushes your buttons has good and bad aspects. Refraining from labeling something as eternally good or eternally evil gives us the space to see it fully. I say that well, but living it is hard. A barn rat taught me this lesson recently. Barn rats have attitude. They are second only to New York City subway rats. They will cut you. I'm in a barn with regularity, and while cleaning a stall, a barn rat started smack talking me, and I told him to leave and he wouldn't. One of the grooms came, and with his nifty boot-clad foot, kicked the barn rat out of the stall. Then he said to me, "You need a pair of cowboy boots." I'd resisted because a person from my past wore them (they were part of his "image"), and this person left some huge wounds. I could only see cowboy boots as representing something bad from my past. Until the barn rat. Boots, I discovered, are good for lots of things besides reminding me of a hurtful person. So, after a Twitter conversation with another priest and an unorthodox Jew, I bought a pair of what we named swagger boots. That look great, fit me, and kick barn rats out of the way. Boots, people, life - whatever the thing we've labeled one way, there's good and bad in everything. Be open to it all. Learn from it all. And kick the rats out of the way when they won't leave.
8. Forgiveness is a life-long event. Dammit. I would so love for forgiveness to be the one and done thing. It's not. The big wounds heal slowly and leave scars. Just when I think I've finished the journey, I often discover I have more road to walk. So I keep walking.
9. Giving up snark and coffee will make me Awesome Priest...no, just kidding. Really. I wouldn't do that. I'll be Mediocre Priest and keep my snark and coffee.