Sunday 2 April 2017

A different kind of Lent

We're nearing the end of the Christian season of Lent: the 40 days that lead up to Easter.  Over recent years, this is how I've generally come to observe this season:
  1. I restrict the variety of things I eat and drink.  This tends to feel both boring and constrained.  I then use those feelings as a prompt to turn to God and to remind myself that he is sufficient for me.
  2. I do some kind of extra Bible reading in the morning.  This year I've been working through Lynne Baab's reflections on the Psalms.
  3. I do an evening reflection (a kind of 'examen').
  4. In place of doing more interesting activities, I take time to list a bunch of things we no longer need on TradeMe.  The money this generates is passed on to Tranzsend for their annual 'prayer and self denial' appeal.  This year, in terms of 'not doing interesting activities', I felt it was particularly important not to write any research-heavy blog posts during Lent.  Posts like these ones take a huge amount of time and energy, and I feel/felt a strong need to take a break from that kind of work and turn my focus inward for a while.
  5. Celebrate God's goodness on Sundays by enjoying special food and doing fun things :-)
All this has added up to a season of self-examination which, whilst often not all that comfortable, has been a time of cleansing and growth.  It has become something I look forward to.

This year is different.

There's a lot of difficult stuff going on in my life at the moment, all of which has left me profoundly tired.  Somehow along the way I've also stopped trusting God to run the world (or, at least, the parts of the world that impact on me and the people I love) and started trying to do it myself.  I've taken to trying to control people's actions rather than praying for them; moved from trusting in God's goodness, to worrying about several particular situations, to finally being in a constant state of amorphous anxiety :-(

Lent has come at just the right time for me this year!

As I've listened to each morning's psalm, very little has come to me as I reflect on the accompanying questions, and I've largely left the questions behind.  However, I have felt a reconnection with God as I listen to the psalm itself.  Again, when I try to do my evening reflection, my mind is largely blank.  I can't summon the energy for self-examination, so there has been little going on in the way of cleansing.  I have been feeling like it was pointless and even stopped doing it last week.  Then I remembered that, several times, I have tangibly felt God calling me to rest, and one time I felt like I was lying in a stream of Living Water (like from John 4 or John 7), letting it flow through me and refresh my burned-out self.  So, I've gone back to presenting myself to God in the evenings, even if I'm no longer putting much effort into trying to go through the self-examination questions!  And, whilst I haven't actually managed to list anything on TradeMe yet (in part because I was heavily involved in organising Neighbours Day this year, in part because I've just been too tired), it's been such a good discipline to 'park' any researchy blog post ideas and simply take time to rest.

On Friday the psalm for the morning was this:
To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
    look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
    to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    until he has mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
    for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill
    of the scorn of those who are at ease,
    of the contempt of the proud.
Psalm 123, NRSV translation 

And I thought 'that's me!'.  A simple servant, faced by stuff too big for her, looking to her master for help.

As I have consciously tried to seek God and rest in him, I've found my automatic responses have shifted a bit.  I definitely still find myself giving in to fear and worry (I woke up with a mild sense of amorphous anxiety this very morning, for example), but I'm starting to find myself looking to the Lord my God for help and the relief that is bringing is enormous.  It's not scorn and contempt of which I've had my fill, but I've certainly had my fill of worry and busyness and trying to run the world!  It's so good to begin to let go of that.

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