Saturday, March 23, 2013
Finding Grace While Living Lent
My church had a fabulous congregational-wide journey called "Unbinding the Heart," which is part of the "Unbinding the Gospel" series found over at gracenet.info . It is a journey that consists of small groups gathering, praying together, and talking about how their church as well as each individual can have a deeper relationship with God.
I joined this journey, but it definitely did not become the destination I thought I was journeying toward.
Pastor told me this would be "right up my alley." He told me back at Christmas that we were doing this Lent study that was very "me-ish" and I'd love it. All through the Christmas season I awaited Lent like it was Christmas Day. Odd thought, isn't it.
When it came time to start the 40-day journey of "Unbinding the Heart," I found myself in a very stressful time of year. Or of life. I'm not sure because I feel like we've been racing through life at crisis-intervention-speed for the past two years. All I know is that things felt like they were colliding once I started meeting on Saturdays for one hour in my small group.
Mind you, I was excited. I yearned to get to know people more personally at my church. I yearned to make some friends in this tiny town of mine. We moved here two and a half years ago, but I still feel very new and out of place. And besides, I was excited to delve into the book that accompanied this journey because it had homework.
I was excited to have faith homework. Yes, if I had my way, I'd go back to school - divinity school if I could really dream - and I'd study the Bible day and night and talk theology and faith and God-passion 24/7. However, God has placed me in this family, in this town, in this job, in this place of life.
"Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure." ~ Psalm 16:5
So while I couldn't go to divinity school or even to the local cafe to read and write all day long, I could attend a small group one hour per week and do this prayer journal daily and read a chapter a week. I thought I could. I knew I could. This was "up my alley."
I had no idea how much grace had to be given. Before given, it had to be realized. Then accepted. How much grace our Lord has!
We often don't realize the amount of grace God gives until after we learn the hard lesson.
So weeks went by and I did go the small group meetings on each Saturday (I missed one due to family business), but for the life of me I couldn't do the very things that made this so exciting and fun and "up my alley" and "me-ish."
I couldn't do what made me me.
I couldn't find time to read the chapters. I couldn't find time to take notes. I didn't read each daily prayer exercise.
Who was this person I had become? Why was I not enjoying this group? What was holding me back? I would join the five or six other people on Saturdays and they'd each be going through their own struggle and we'd all pray about it and talk about it.
How could I tell them that my problem was this journey? That I wasn't journeying on this journey with them?
It finally came out at the second to last group. I had it pent up in me for so long: this anger at myself, this disappointment that I was not getting everything I could out of this group. Why was I not getting this?
Those words, well-intentioned yet haunting, kept ringing in my ears: "but this is so 'you.'"
This 40-day journey during Lent, one of my favorite times of the year...Lent...when I want to delve into Christ's journey to the cross...when I want to meditate on what sacrifice and love and commitment mean...when I want to feel so much closer to God as I watched His Son carry that ugly beautiful punishment on His back - all for us - I wanted to be getting so much more out of it all.
I wanted to live for the King. I wanted to live every day breathing every breath, speaking every word, singing every song for the Lord.
On that day I burst into tears with my small group and finally confessed to my not-doing-it-right and my anger at this not being me-ish at...
the group said the very thing Pastor told me many times in emails responding to my cries for help:
"There is grace for you."
They spoke of grace and how we don't need to do it all right or do it the same way. It's okay, they said. It's okay.
And I thought about what I had been doing the past 40 days.
We had a huge crisis with one of our children and had to attend to that, more intensely than usual, for about a week. I was going through my usual but always-forgotten-about-Season Affective Disorder. Husband and I were having marital issues and trying to lean more on God for understanding. I was lonely for friendship. I was insanely busy helping Miss G with her 3rd grade homework (along with Husband) and I think she actually had 3 huge projects going on at the same time and is still at the point of needing one-on-one help with homework. The youngest, Mr. A, began acting out in Kindergarten (my shy, sweet little boy?) and I needn't go into the eldest's problems. Additionally, a close family member had significant surgery which threw me out of whack and into much fear. My own physical ailments continued to plague me.
And through it all? I still prayed. I tried my best to attend Lenten services on Wednesday nights. I prayed more. I sang. I went to Praise Team rehearsals and also practiced for our big concert in April. I went to work meetings and to therapy sessions and worked my tail off talking with insurance people and mental health professionals trying to help a family member in need. And I prayed more. I kept praying.
I never stopped praying and I didn't exactly change my mode of praying, either. I realize now that it's a wonder that with all that chaos and busyness that I didn't lessen in prayer. That I didn't get "too busy" for God. Because that can happen all too easily.
But I didn't forget God. I talked with Him every single day. I even cried out to Him about my frustration with this Unbinding journey I didn't think I was joining.
I almost quit and threw in the towel. Husband confronted me and told me I had over-committed myself. The family needed me. The family missed me. I felt torn and angry and confused. But I took it to God.
Show me where I have filled my spirit up with anything other than You, Lord.
I asked God to reveal to me what I needed to keep and what I needed to let go.
The answer was surprising.
I stuck with Unbinding. I took out my Wednesday night Lenten worship. I continued to help with homework and facilitate emails with teachers and therapists, but I let go a little. Okay, I let go a lot. I recalled my first Holy Week and Easter as a Christian and how I rejoiced in all the revelations and amen-azing moments I had:
2011 Easter-related blog entries:
The Waiting Game
He Has Risen Indeed
Not Like a Birthday
How prolific I was that year! How many books I read on Lent and Easter, how many devotionals I did!
But this year? I couldn't even do my homework.
But there is grace. There is grace in not doing homework and grace in not meeting up with the prayer partner for hours over coffee and hushed tones. There is grace for not filling out every blank space in the book.
I still prayed. I still followed God and read the Word and knelt in the presence of the Lord. I wasn't blogging or journaling or doing writing of any kind. I wasn't sharing exciting revelations with others. I wasn't reading and finishing books on Lent. I didn't even get to consistently follow my favorite blogs like I normally would.
Instead, I served my family and tried to care for myself as well as for them. My family - these three kids and my husband - this is the ministry God has called me to have, these four people He has called me to serve right here, right now.
And so that first Wednesday Lenten worship I did not attend, we had "church" had home and didn't even plan it. Miss G and I were making a Spring-themed wreath and we ended up, somehow, talking about Heaven and Hell. It had been a while since my curious 9-year-old stepdaughter asked any God-questions, but here she sat with tears streaming down her cheeks confessing things to me that squeezed her heart so much she dared to whisper that she didn't think God would let her into Heaven.
And so the Holy Spirit filled me (as well as my own mothering nature) and I spoke Truth to that young girl so passionately that you would have thought I was doing the evangelizing the "Unbinding the Heart" book talked about. I told my girl that once she believed in Jesus and loved and followed Him that she was a new creation - her old self was gone, her past sins wiped clean, and she became a new creation. I spoke of God's perfect love and how God can see directly into the very center of her heart so He knows her truest feelings. I spoke the Truth that she needed to hear that night. If I hadn't sacrificed going to service that night, I would have missed ministering to my growing-up-girl in an intensely necessary way.
I was living Lent. Not reading or writing about it. I was living Lent. Look at the ELCA web site and what they say Lent is: basically, prayer, sacrifice (fasting or adding something), and service.
I think about what Lent has looked like this year and I see that I have not done as much meditating as in years prior, but I have lived it. I have prayed and I have made sacrifices for my family and I have served them in ways deeper than any time before.
God was having me live Lent this year instead of blogging, reading, and talking about it.
This is not to say that I got the "living Lent" aspect all "right" and perfect. I still made mistakes just like I made mistakes with the Unbinding the Heart journey. But we are human and, in Christ, there is grace.
So as I continue to pray and seek love, forgiveness, grace, I continue to watch Jesus as he stumbles under the weight of that horrible, terrible cross, as He endures more pain than I can ever imagine, as He absorbs all of our failed church activities and missed appointments, our snapping at our kids and yelling at our spouses. I watch Jesus die for you and for me and I think - I must think - about what that truly means.
Living Lent has brought me to new realizations this year.
Maybe I have grown in faith this season, without even realizing.