Lenten Opportunities

Spin Cycle

My mom would quip how she didn’t know if she was coming or going from time to time. Her acknowledgment usually came during busy times when I wanted to start a new activity or had something I needed her to do.

My mom and dad were 43 when I came into the picture. They had already raised my two sisters and, I’m sure, at 55, would rather be winding down rather than trying to keep up with a 12-year-old. What I believe she was attempting to communicate was how busy she was with competing goals and priorities. At 12-years-old I didn’t know how life gets busy and sometimes we just want to stop.

The earth spins at about 1000 miles per hour (at the equator). We may not know it, but we are constantly spinning, spinning, spinning. I’ve heard people say, “Stop the world, I want to get off” not because of the earth’s constant spin, but because life can spin out of control.

The earth’s constant motion isn’t what gets to us, it’s all the motion in our lives. Regardless of our desire to “stop the world”, it won’t happen. The earth will keep spinning (which is a very good thing) and so do our lives. Even those times when we believe our life will slow down, it doesn’t. Sometimes our lives spin even faster.

Lent As An Opportunity

We are already busy, so what does it mean to add something like Lent into the mix?

Instead of viewing Lent as “one more thing”, what if we see Lent as an opportunity to “stop the world”? Well, not exactly “stop the world” but at least slow it down somewhat. The world will keep spinning, but our lives don’t need to. Lent can be an opportunity when we choose to slow down our spinning lives.

The WHAT of Lent

Historically, Lent has been a time of intentional prayer and self-denial. Over forty days we are reminded of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness (see Luke 4). During that time, Jesus fasted, prayed, and combated the devil. The focus on self-denial and prayer helps us connect with Jesus’ time in the wilderness as he prepared for God’s mission.

Our forty days of Lent (which doesn’t include Sundays) started on Feb. 26th with Ash Wednesday and lasts until the Saturday before Easter. What you choose to do during these forty days can have a profound effect on your life and soul. Lent can empower us and prepare us for God’s purpose.

The HOW of Lent

Knowing the history and purpose of Lent can be helpful, but the power of Lent comes via intentional practices. Practices that draw us closer to Jesus, help us to love others, and have the potential to transform our lives empower us to follow Jesus. During the days of Lent, we find newness of life.

The power of Lent comes from our choice to enter into practices that create space for God. The faster our life spins, the easier it is to neglect God. Time for prayer, scripture, and other spiritual practices becomes limited and, at times, completely bypassed, forfeited for other pressing activities. When we decide to find time to draw near to God, we discover how he draws near to us.

The WHY of Lent

Why should we embrace our Lenten opportunity? Because we need Lent. We need to be reminded that life doesn’t consist of our lives spinning out of control. We need time to sit with Jesus in the desert of our soul. We need practices of self-denial and prayer. We need to be reminded that through Jesus’ self-denial and death, we have life abundantly. Lent also prepares us for the celebration of Resurrection.

Invitation to a Holy Lent

The word “holy” means to be set apart. In order to have a Holy Lent, we set it apart. If we want to experience the power of Lent, it must look different than our ordinary days.

How can we set Lent apart? Here are some ideas:

“Giving up” something for Lent is a popular Lenten practice. Whether a favorite treat, time watching TV, or some other item or activity, when we say “no” to ourselves we enter into self-denial.

Fasting a meal or a day (or longer) connects us to Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness.

Setting a fixed time for prayer and reading Scripture can be a time of renewal.

Adding a spiritual practice such as prayer, scripture, spending time in nature, serving somewhere, attending Sunday Worship services, or attending Lenten Reflections, helps connect us to self-denial and renewal.

Yes, our lives may be busy, perhaps overflowing. In order to add Lenten practices, we may have to say “no” in order to say “yes.” What can you say no to? Can you say no to a favorite TV program? A destructive activity? A favorite vice? A favorite food? Eating three (or two) meals a day? The reality is, if we are going to say “yes” to a Lenten practice, we may have to say “no” to an ordinary activity. If we are going to “stop the world” we must say “no” so we can say “yes.” Doing so sets Lent apart, helping us experience a holy Lent.

A Prayer

As you reflect on what God desires for you during this season, I offer two prayers. The first is Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment. The second prayer for you to offer Jesus during Lent.

Here is Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment:

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my father.

Jesus, please help me to walk with you in self-denial. You denied yourself by going to the cross and dying so that I might live. Help me to say no to myself, so others can live. May this season of Lent be a Holy season set apart for you and your purposes. Guide me during these forty days. May I be transformed through you. Peace, David.

Doing Our Best Work

Note: While I focus on pastoral work in this article, I believe anyone who struggles with scheduling creative work may benefit. I debated publishing this, fearing that some may not understand the various pressures and struggles of pastors and others who must address problems without clear solutions or perform other tasks which draw on creative resources. After sharing the article with a friend who encouraged me to post it, I offer it in hopes that some find encouragement, hope, or understanding.

The Creative Pastor

Are pastors creatives? While I’ve lamented the stress of forced creativity of writing and presenting weekly sermons, I don’t know if I’ve viewed pastors as creatives. I know artists, musicians, screenwriters, and such do creative work, but pastors aren’t writing screenplays, poems, songs, or painting beautiful pictures. I’m not sure I’ve considered that pastors may be just as creative but in a different way. Continue reading “Doing Our Best Work”

Why I Started Reading Fewer Books

I love reading books. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I love the thought of reading. Reading, on the other hand, I find taxing.

I know many people who love reading. I’m not one of them. What I do love is learning. Since reading provides me the best and, perhaps, the most effective way to learn, I read. While I don’t necessarily find reading enjoyable, I read anyway.

Did you know over 300,000 books are published every year in the US? Yes, every year. That seems a tad excessive.

Thanks, Gutenberg!

If it wasn’t for his amazing printing press, there would be fewer books in the world. I would also have far fewer books on my bookshelf and in my Kindle.

I suffer from a buying books addiction. I can’t stop! I buy book after book, but I don’t always read them. Every time I look at my bookshelf, or look at my Kindle library and see all the unread books, I feel guilty.

Last year I decided to alleviate my guilt. I would make more time for reading. My reading would be intentional and focused. I would have a plan!

My plan revolved around creating two lists; Books I want to read and books I have read. I would choose a book from the “want to read” list and read that book and only that. Instead of having multiple half-read books, I would focus on one book and read it from beginning to end.

I would also keep track of the books that I read. Tracking would help me stay motivated, give me a plan to address my unread books, and provide feedback on my progress.

I am happy to report that my plan worked!

I read more books! I read a lot more books. I started my plan in April and by October I had read 53 books. I estimate, if I would have tracked the whole year, I would have read somewhere around 70 or 80 books.

I would read anywhere from one to three books a week. I was tearing through my unread books with ease. It was great. I felt good about myself and was proud of my accomplishment.

And then I stopped.

I didn’t stop reading. I stopped following my plan. I stopped tracking. I didn’t stop because I got lazy, I stopped with intention and purpose.

Why stop tracking when my approach seemed so effective? Basically, there were two problems with my plan that I didn’t anticipate.

For one, I was after the wrong goal.

If you looked at my list, you would see the books A Curious Mind (9 days), New to 5 (1 day), and Emotional Agility (5 days). Were they good books? I think so. To be honest, I can’t remember too much about them. Did I read them? Well, I saw all the words. I underlined things that seemed important. I can go back to Kindle and look at my highlights. Yet, I’m not sure the experience of “reading” those books was really what I wanted.

My stated goal was to read more books, which I was. But my real goal was to learn, which I wasn’t doing. I’m not sure I learned too much from any of those books. The fault wasn’t with the author, the fault was with me!

The second problem with my plan was the books I was choosing to read.

While I was reading a lot of books, I found I was gravitating toward books that seemed easier to read. If a book covered a difficult topic or seemed like it might take a long time to read, I wouldn’t pick it from my “to read” list. I started looking at the “average reading time” that Kindle lists and used that to pick the next book on my hit list.

In October, I decided to stop keeping track. Instead, I would focus on learning and choose books that could take longer to read, but offered a deeper insight and understanding of the subject matter.

Here are some key takeaways from my new approach:

  1. Passive reading isn’t the same as active reading.

  2. It’s okay to have unread books.

  3. Interacting with the book means I need a physical copy.

  4. Reading may not come naturally.

I am also learning that I don’t really know how to read a book. Not for deep learning anyway. So, I brushed off my copy of How to Read a Book that, I, ironically, listened to on Audible a few years back, and so I might find a process that helps me learn.

I assume I will be reading fewer books, but I am convinced I will gain a deeper understanding of the subject, read more challenging books, and, who knows, might just enjoy reading!

I may write another post outlining the process that I land on for reading. Right now, my process is too new to share. I have to live with a process for a while tweaking it through trial and error.

If you have a process or technique you use to read, share in the comments!