Tag Archive | faith

No signs on my lawn

My sixteen year old asked me a question recently that stirred up great debate between all three of my children and me as we were riding in the car.

16:  Mom, why don’t we put a [political] sign on our lawn?

   gary_johnson_two_evils_yard_sign trump steinhillary-clinton-yard-sign

Me:  We can’t.

16:  What do you mean “We can’t?”

Me:  We live in a church-owned home, and because it’s church property, not our private property, we can’t.  It’s the separation of church and state.

16:  That’s not fair.  We should be able to tell people what we believe!

Me:  As individuals that’s true.  And if you want to put a sign on your bedroom door IN the house, or a sticker on your phone, or wear a t-shirt “go for it.”  But we can’t put a sign on church property.

All three chimed in, agreeing with their sister that it wasn’t fair, and that they have as much right as the neighbors do to advertise their allegiances.  They felt penalized for living in a church home since it stifled their desire to advertise. Understanding that they didn’t sign up for being pastors’ kids, I sympathized with their dilemma.  But that doesn’t change the reality.

Anyone who knows me personally knows I can be very outspoken.  I don’t think anyone who is my friend on Facebook or follows me on Twitter could wonder about my political leanings.  But stating opinions on my personal Facebook profile is ENTIRELY different than putting a sign on the parsonage lawn or talking about how I think people should vote from the pulpit.  Even on Facebook I have not and will not tell people who or who not to vote for – I think that’s wrong anyway, leaving the pastoral aspect out of it completely.  I may be very vocal about who I’m not voting for (believe it or not I haven’t said who will get my vote), but I leave your decision up to you.

I take the separation of Church and State very seriously.  Some pastors skirt the edge.  They can’t cross it because of something called the Johnson Amendment, which you can read about.  Some even support a certain candidate in this presidential election because they promise to do away with the Johnson Amendment (I leave you to discover which one).  I think that’s dangerous.  In our much of our society religious institutions still hold an important place.  In some congregations what the pastor says “goes” because they are very authoritarian.  For a pastor (or rabbi or imam…) to stand in worship, where their words carry significant weight, and TELL people who they should vote for – and in some cases that they’re damned if they don’t – is just WRONG.  In the Christian tradition, the pulpit is the place for Jesus to be preached – and while Jesus was certainly political, he was political in the sense of fighting for those who were the “least of these” NOT those in power.  Jesus would throw his weight behind the poor and homeless, not Clinton or Trump.  If churches are able to put up political signs in front of their buildings and raise money for candidates, we become instruments of Caesar, not Jesus.

I’ve been a pastor for over 20 years.  Sometimes the restriction of the Johnson Amendment has been frustrating, as it is now.  But I am not sorry for it.  It keeps me true to the gospel instead of my own desire for political power or to hold undue influence over others.  It doesn’t mean I won’t talk about larger issues within politics – after all, I just said Jesus was political.  But there is a BIG difference between saying, “Jesus calls us to serve the poor, so what are we doing about it?” and, “Vote for ‘so-and-so.'”  One is a call to action, inspired by Jesus, for the sake of others – the other is a call to create a political base for the consolidation and promotion of a certain political power.  As a pastor, I am called to do the one, but not the other.  And if the other option becomes more important to me, then I should resign my position.  Now, one is certainly able to be a “Rev” and run for office in a political party – look at Mike Huckabee or Jessie Jackson.  But they do NOT serve specific congregations.  And if I lived in my own home instead of a church-owned home I could litter my yard with signs, but that is not the case, much to my children’s dismay.

So, if you’re my literal neighbor, and wondering why you haven’t seen a sign on my lawn, now you know.

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the disturbing reality of our mortality

My denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, posted this picture on their facebook page for Ash Wednesday:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (facebook page)

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (facebook page)

It’s a beautiful image – yet disturbing at the same time.  In our culture, talking about death is avoided, confronting death in the face – really avoided, confronting the death of our children – avoided at all costs.  Some people might consider the above photo to be in poor taste because it features a child.

Death is ultimate equalizer – no one escapes it.  We might be wealthy enough to afford the best medical care, but in the end, no matter how much medical expertise we can buy, we eventually succumb.  With medical advances (and again money) we may be able to hold it back, but in the end it’s only delaying the inevitable.  We all die.  And with the exception of suicide, we have little control over how and when that happens.   And death is frightening.  It’s frightening because of our lack of control over it, and our lack of concrete physical knowledge of what happens next.  If we could be guaranteed heaven, our earthly death would be no big deal.  Problem is we don’t have that.   I have FAITH there is heaven.  I BELIEVE that Jesus has prepared a place for me and all the baptized.  But faith and belief are NOT the same as knowledge.  Can I prove there is an afterlife?  If we could prove heaven’s existence, no one would fear death and everyone would (not believe) but know there is God and live and die accordingly.  Alas, we cannot.  Resurrection is a matter of faith.

But here is where I find comfort in the above photo, rather than poor taste.  Here is where I find joy in the photo, rather than an affront.

The first time I imposed ashes on the forehead of one of my children I paused.  Looking them in the face, confronting their mortality, SHOOK me.  In that moment I was thinking only of the “here and now,” which, as a parent was completely natural.  I quickly had to remind myself of what I believe and rest in that.  It’s easier said than done, especially when thinking of our children.  I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a child.  I pray I never know.  I have, however, tasted just a morsel of that pain, when we suspected my middle child might have a degenerative disease that would cut her life very short (thankfully it was ruled out, but the wait for diagnosis was torture).

I can’t say I never doubt.  That would be dishonest.  But I DO have faith.  I have faith that the same cross that was traced on our forehead at baptism, the same cross that is traced on our forehead in ash, is the cross that was there for us 2,000 years ago, the cross of death that leads to life.  I have faith that death does NOT have the last word for those who cling to that cross.  The pain of death is real.  Even those who have faith grieve, and grieve profoundly.  But with our grief we dare to have hope that there is more.  And when hope is fleeting, having a community of faith surrounding us, reminding us of the promises and love of God, can carry us through another day.

So I love the photo.  I love that it jolts me out of my comfort zone.  Out of the comfort zone that tells me I’m the master of my destiny.  Out of the comfort zone that tries to have me deny the reality of my mortality.  I’m thankful to be jolted out, because out of that comfort zone I find the love of God I don’t deserve, the love of God that holds my children and all those I love more than I EVER could, the love that holds every one of us as we travel through the trials of this life, and into the eternal joy of the life to come.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

My favorite Advent/Christmas song

If you ask people what their favorite Advent or Christmas song/hymn is, chances are you’ll get one of the old standards – Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Away In a Manger etc…  I love all these, in fact, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem is right near the top of my list.  But it’s not my favorite.  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” probably IS my favorite hymn for congregational or choir singing, but there is another song that has a much deeper personal meaning for me.

My favorite Advent/Christmas song is a contemporary song by Amy Grant.  It’s called “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton, and you can listen to it here if you want.  Or you can just read the lyrics:

I have traveled many moonless nights

Cold and weary with a babe inside

And I wonder what I’ve done

Holy Father you have come

And chosen me now

To carry your Son

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone

Be with me now

Be with me now

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven

Lighten my darkness

Pour over me your holiness

For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face

If a wiser one should have had my place

But I offer all I am

For the mercy of your plan

Help me be strong

Help me be

Help me

Breath of heaven

Hold me together

Be forever near me

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven

Lighten my darkness

Pour over me your holiness

For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Breath of heaven…

It’s not an obvious favorite.  It’s a more “psychological” song – not focusing on the events, or on the person/mission/ministry/divinity of Jesus.  It imagines the thoughts and prayers of Mary as she approached giving birth, which is why it’s subtitled “Mary’s Song.”  The music is sad and almost haunting, the lyrics filled with uncertainty and fear.  But I think that’s what the approaching birth of Jesus must’ve really been like.  Poor Mary.  And poor Joseph too.  Mary is afraid, yet trusting that somehow God will take care of her.  That is faith.

My third pregnancy was unplanned.  I was SO looking forward to getting my life back with my youngest soon going off to full-day preschool (she was in special education, so preschool would be full-time).  Yet, late in September I discovered I was pregnant – there would be NO getting my life back.  My husband and I were frightened.  We had decided we did not want more children, especially after it became clear that our second child had so many problems.  Yet there we were.

As Advent came upon us I was nearing the end of my first trimester, the sunlight was waning, and the fear seemed to grow in me along with that new life.  I was 40, which put me in a higher risk pregnancy category.  It put my baby at a higher risk for “problems.”  How would we manage three children, especially with one already having special needs?  What if this child had problems too?  We hadn’t yet told anyone about the pregnancy except our closest friends and family because it was almost too hard to say out loud.  Then one Sunday in church a woman sang “Breath of Heaven” as a musical offering, and although I’d heard it before, I hadn’t paid real attention to it in a long while (the song had been out 13 years by then).  Right there in worship I was overcome.  It was all I could do to keep from sobbing.  It was MY song.  All the cold and weariness, all the fear and longing were mineI was Mary – hoping against hope that God would take care of me, that this child God had given to us would be okay, that somehow we’d be able to manage.  That song became my prayer.  I went home, dug out the CD and played that song over and over and over again, and cried and cried and cried – and prayed and prayed and prayed.

Eight and a half years later we have a healthy son, and though it’s not always easy or pretty, so far we’ve been able to navigate three children and autism too.  Our son has been a wonderful gift and we cannot imagine our lives without him.  Even so, I remember the fear and uncertainty as we waited for his birth – and so that song is still mine – it will forever be mine, because I remember.  No matter how many times I hear it, I still get chills…

***Not all the stories around our favorite songs have to be quite so heavy!  What’s YOUR favorite song of the Advent/Christmas seasons?

10th Sunday after Pentecost, 2014

10th Sunday after Pentecost, year A, 2014 (preached August 17, 2014)

first reading:  Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Psalm67

second reading:  Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

gospel reading:  Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28


Today we have a very interesting gospel reading.

Initially it seems like there are two different unconnected parts.  First Jesus talks about that which defiles a person – it’s what come OUT of us, not what goes IN.  Then we have Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman desperate to have help for her daughter.

While they appear unrelated at first, the two incidents in our gospel, and our reading from Isaiah especially, have a profound message – they all answer the question – “WHO’S IN, AND WHO’S OUT?”

Isaiah starts us off.  We read, “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord… these I will bring to my holy mountain… my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  I will gather others besides those already gathered.”

The prophet tells the Israelites that it’s not a matter of race or nationality that defines who’s in and who’s out – it’s faith.  If you join, or commit yourself to the Lord, the Lord will commit to you.  This is what Jesus was illustrating in our gospel.

The Pharisees were overly concerned with keeping the Law.  They were more concerned about keeping the letter of it than the spirit of it.  A big part of that was what could and could not be eaten, it still is for many of the Jewish faith – in other words, what you put IN.  And if you couldn’t or didn’t follow the rules as they interpreted them, you were OUT.

But Jesus turns the whole thing upside down and backwards.  He redefines who’s IN and who’s OUT, not by the outward following of dozens or hundreds of rules, but by what rules our HEARTS.

By his definition, it’s not eating certain kinds of foods, or eating with unwashed hands that defile.  For Jesus, the things that defile a person are attitudes and actions that harm our neighbors:  evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness and slander.

THEN he uses his interaction with the Canaanite woman to drive home the point to his disciples.  Some have taken issue with Jesus’ harsh treatment of this woman, and on the surface I agree.  But I have to believe that Jesus knew the Canaanite woman would persist, and in the end use her to put the disciples in their place.

Isaiah spoke of foreigners being brought IN and Jesus uses his interaction with this woman to illustrate just that.  To the disciples this woman was definitely OUT.  Outside the family of Israel, outside of righteousness, and certainly outside of their group.  The disciples were even urging Jesus to sen her away.  Tell her to get lost – we don’t want to deal with her.

In the end, not only does Jesus heal her daughter, he praises HER FAITH.  He announces that she’s IN.  This foreign woman, with two strikes against her – the fact that she was Canaanite and the fact she was a woman in that society – was welcomed IN.  Not only does she get crumbs, she gets a place AT THE TABLE.

Because she recognized what the disciples and the Pharisees could not.  That in the end, we’re all beggars at the table of the Lord.

Our righteousness doesn’t earn us a place, the accident of our birth doesn’t earn us a place, and certainly any sense of entitlement or perceived privilege does NOT earn us a place at the table, or as Isaiah describes it, on God’s “holy mountain.”

The Pharisees had it all wrong, Jesus even called them “blind guides.”  And the disciples had it all wrong.  It was the foreign woman, who presumed to have NO place, who Jesus lifted up and praised.

Jesus writes a whole new set of rules about who’s IN and who’s OUT of the kingdom.  Or rather he hearkens back to the proclamation of Isaiah in our first reading.

This was HUGELY upsetting to those in power around him.  Utterly offensive to the Pharisees, and extremely confusing to the disciples.  So confusing that Jesus remarks in the first part of the gospel reading, “Are you STILL without understanding?”

Sometimes I think I can hear Jesus say that even now.

It’s a sad part of human nature that we try to separate people into IN and OUT groups.  I remember my great Aunt Helen telling me that when she was growing up in the 1910’s and 20’s, there were people who wouldn’t speak to her because she was of German descent.  Even though she was born HERE, an American by birth – she was OUT.

I know how impossible it can feel for kids in school, when for reasons they may not even know, they’re marked as OUT.  The situation in Missouri right now stems from a whole race of people who believe they’ve been marked as OUT not just now, but for centuries.

Jesus tells us that all of our outward ways of distinguishing who’s IN and who’s OUT are just plain wrong.

Whether it’s the color of our skin, our ethnic heritage, the kind of clothes we wear, the car we drive, the size of our house or if we’re homeless… if we have a “checkered” past, if we’re sick, if we’re perceived as a burden because of physical limitations, or perceive ourselves as a burden for whatever reason…  Our Lord says none of those reasons are valid in judging who’s IN and who’s OUT.

Through our baptism, through our faith, Jesus says we’re IN.  Period.  Praise God!

And Jesus calls each one of us who follow him, who call ourselves his disciples, to proclaim that message, to welcome all who seek to know his love, so that in the words of the prophet Isaiah, we all may be “joyful in [God’s] house of prayer…”  and that THIS house in which we gather, and ALL places of worship “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

AMEN.

Suicide: Sin and the problem of Enough

Ok, so everyone and their brother seems to have written a post about the suicide of Robin Williams. Many of them are eloquent and raw, and beautiful – and I am grateful and richer for reading them.

1)  Some, however, have been written that Williams was a selfish coward, and his act a sin.

2)  There are also those who firmly believe that if a Christian prays hard enough, or believes strongly enough in the power of Jesus, that their depression can be healed.  These statements and beliefs need to be addressed, because the ramifications of such statements/beliefs can be dangerous to those who are suffering, as well as their families and friends.

PART ONE –

In and of itself, suicide CAN be viewed as sin, in that it is the taking of a life – in the same way that murder is sin.  But the catch is that we CANNOT look at suicide in and of itself.  Except in the cases of those who plan to lose their lives in the process of murdering others (ex. suicide bombers), suicide is the end result of serious and dangerous diseases – depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia to name a few.  I won’t go through the many diagnoses that can lead to the black hole of suicidal ideation and action, but suicide does NOT happen all by itself.

Because I’m Lutheran I look to my tradition first.  The Lutheran Confessions and catechisms say nothing of suicide.  In the treatment of the commandment “thou shall not kill” they say A LOT about how we are to treat our neighbors, but make no mention of self-harm.  Some writers who have condemned Williams have mentioned the Roman Catholic Church’s view.  But even that is NOT so simple.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church DOES say, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us.  It is not ours to dispose of.” (paragraph 2280)  HOWEVER there is more:  “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.  We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.  By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.  The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” (paragraph 2282-2283)

Nowhere have I been able to find a decent definition of “salutary repentance” but from the context I understand that the Roman Church recognizes that while suicide IS the taking of a life, psychiatric diseases sufficiently impact responsibility so that a) we shouldn’t despair over the victim’s salvation, and b) God can do whatever God wants, and if God wants that person in heaven, then that’s where they’ll be.  I’m glad for these clarifications, and I wish those claiming to share Catholic dogma would check their facts.

One who has never been sucked into the dark isolating black hole of suicidal ideation may view it as selfish and cowardly – but the one who has been fighting against the vacuum that is sucking them in, against the thoughts in their brain that tell them their family would be better off, that they’re worthless nothings, may see the act as brave and sacrificial.  That’s the twisted thinking that diminishes responsibility.  I have also known people in such tremendous psychological PAIN – REAL pain, pain that can manifest itself physically all over the body – that suicide “seems” to be the only way to find relief from constant suffering.  I put “seems” in quotations because again, when we’re thinking in a healthy rational manner, we might find there are other ways to cope or wait out our period of desperation if we receive treatment.  Again, this is the disease of mental illness creating “diminished responsibility.”

Is it a sin?  Some say “yes,” many others say no.  But even if it is a sin, it is sin that is covered by God’s GRACE and MERCY and the power of Holy Baptism.  I have never doubted for a moment the salvation of a person who has died from suicide, just as I have never doubted the salvation of a person who has died from cancer or any other illness.

PART TWO –

As for those who think if a person only prays enough or believes strongly enough mental illness will go away I can only ask that they get over it in the same way they expect those with mental illness to get over it.  The last time I checked, the only group that doesn’t believe in medical treatment for illnesses were Christian Scientists.  Of course it’s perfectly fine to pray for someone with mental illness.  It’s perfectly fine for someone with mental illness to pray.  But to suggest that prayer not be accompanied by medical treatment (therapy and/or medication) is the same as suggesting that someone with cancer should just “pray it away” without seeing a doctor.  It’s the same as telling someone with high blood pressure not to take their medication because Jesus will cure them.  It’s the same as telling someone who is blind that if they just believe hard enough they’ll be able to see.  And this is all ridiculous (to put it nicely).

GOD WORKS THROUGH MEDICAL SCIENCE AND MEDICATION.  God has given us the curiosity and wisdom to learn many things about how our bodies work.  As a result we know much about diseases that attack us and the ways we can fight back and find healing through that God-given learning.  Talk therapy is a real treatment for many types of mental illness.  Medication is a real treatment for many types of mental illness.  Talk therapy and medication together are a real treatment for many types of mental illness.  God works through them, because God is the source of ALL healing and life.

The idea of believing enough is damaging because it puts blame on the victim if a miraculous healing doesn’t occur.  So your spinal chord was severed.  Pray hard enough and you’ll walk.  Believe enough and you’ll dance.  What?  You’re still in the wheelchair?  Too bad for you.  This belief in enough is hurtful and downright unbiblical.  Sure, Jesus healed folks and said things like “great is your faith” but Jesus never taught that life would be easy or without suffering.  Even Lazarus who he raised from the dead eventually died.

This unbiblical belief in enough can also be dangerous because a person suffering from mental illness may be praying their hearts out, but if they’re still despondent they can feel GUILT on top of it all because obviously their faith ISN’T enough, or they’d feel better.  So now in addition to mental illness they feel guilt and perhaps even that God doesn’t LOVE them or they’d be healed.  THAT my friends, is a recipe for real disaster for the mentally ill, and for their families, because that leads to HOPELESSNESS.  If I felt God didn’t love me, it would rob me of my hope in a second.  And if I believe God doesn’t love me, then what does my suicide matter in the heavenly scheme of things if I’m unloved anyway…  you see how this thinking can create a dangerous slippery slope?

***Plus, our salvation isn’t about US having enough anyway, it’s about GOD HAVING ENOUGH – because in the end we never have enough (indeed, we have NOTHING), that’s why we need Jesus!***

I am grieved whenever I hear of someone taking their own life.  But my grief isn’t over their salvation, or any unforgiven sin.  My grief is sadness over the pain that must have driven them to such a desperate act.  My grief is over them not getting the treatment they needed (whether it was a total lack of treatment, or not finding the right kind of treatment in time).  My grief is for their families who I know from experience will deal with obvious deep sorrow, but also anger at their loved one (that’s ok) and guilt over what they feel the “could’ve” done to save them.

Nowhere, I repeat nowhere, does judgment enter into the picture.  Amen.

 

***addendum:  Just when I think no one reads these ramblings of mine I hear from my BISHOP!! (cue fear and trembling!)  She reminded me that the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) DID put out a statement on suicide back in 1999, but that my words were “enough” (I’m not sure if she intended the play on that word!).  I was relieved.  But for those interested, here is my denomination’s statement on suicide prevention (16 pages worth).

Why did God made me autism?

I was sitting in bed, browsing the internet, minding my own business, when my 14 and 11 year old daughters entered the room.  My oldest had a look of “help!” on her face.  They walked over and sat on the bed and my oldest said to her sister, “Bekah, ask Mommy what you were just asking me.”  Bekah looked a little timid, which is unusual for her, then asked,

“Mommy, why did God made me autism?” 

(This is an exact quote.  One of her many issues is that she has problems with verb tenses and sentence structure.)  I’m glad I was in bed and not standing up because I think I might have fallen over.  We had the “autism talk” with her a few months ago, and while it’s come up here and there in passing, she has not approached near this depth of thought about it, at least verbally.  I have had years to work out my own beliefs about God causing things and have even written a bit about it here, but putting all my thoughts and beliefs in words that would make sense to her left me momentarily speechless.  Yet there she was, looking at me, waiting for an answer – one of those lovely terrifying parental moments.  I took a big breath then dived in.

Here’s how it went – paraphrased of course – – –

Me:  Honey, God didn’t give you autism.  Sometimes things just happen.     B:  How come?     Me:  Well, every one of us is different right?  Some of us have brown hair, some people have blue eyes, some people are tall and some are short.  Sometimes people have special challenges too.  Sometimes a person might need a wheelchair because their legs don’t work right, or remember that girl in your dance class that only had one hand?  I know that having autism can be hard sometimes, but God didn’t give it to you, God helps you so you can be strong and work hard and be the wonderful girl you are!

B:  Did I get it in your belly?     Me:  I don’t know.  Some very smart doctors think maybe autism starts in the mommy’s belly, other smart doctors think it happens after you’re born.     B:  Oh.  Did my friends get autism in their mommy’s bellies?     Me:  We don’t know about them either.  You know there are THOUSANDS of kids and grown-ups with autism all over the world and the doctors don’t know for sure if it starts in the mommy’s bellies or happens after they’re born.  It’s the same with all those people as it is with you.

B:  Do the kids at (the other program site where they have classes for more challenged “lower functioning” kids) have autism too?     Me:  Yep.  There are all different ways people have autism.  You know there’s lots of kids at (the other site) who don’t talk right?     B:  Yes.     Me:  Well, some people with autism have a really hard time talking, and some kids like you talk really well!  But you took a long time to talk and had to work really hard, and we’re so proud of you!     B:  Yeah!

She seemed satisfied at that point and bounced away happily to play while my oldest stared at me with a look of “I can’t believe what just happened.”  She got up slowly and left the room too – then I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief that it was over.

I asked my daughter later what made her think of that original question, “Why did God made me autism?”  And she casually replied, “I don’t know.”  She has been asking more questions about God lately, but putting the two together as a “cause and effect” was a big leap.  There’s definitely a lot going on in that beautiful brain of hers.

You may completely disagree with the answer I gave my daughter about her autism.  It may give you comfort to think that God is in control of the details of our everyday lives.  But that thought has never comforted me.  For me that would make God a dispenser of pain and suffering.  I believe that God is THE loving presence who gives us strength to persevere,  carries us through our pains, comforts us in the midst of our suffering and gives us hope that we are more than the things that challenge us.

God heals our ills, God doesn’t cause them.

Lenten struggle

When my husband and I were first married we used to “do” Lent together.  We would decide on something to sacrifice, where we would give our alms, explore a devotional together – and support one another in our journey.  This is what we call the discipline of Lent:  prayer, fasting, almsgiving (or works of love).  That was a long time ago.

After 19 years a lot has changed, and I struggle now with Lent.  I still find it deeply meaningful to reflect on my faith – its strengths and weaknesses, where I could improve in my practice of my relationship with the Lord and my neighbors.  Perhaps it’s age, perhaps it’s parenthood.

When you’re 25 and giving up chocolate for 40 days it’s an adventure – a craving to conquer.  Now, I’m less concerned with what to give up and more concerned with giving more time to my children as they grow up before my eyes.  When you’re 29 and the only major expense you have is your student loan, it’s not so hard to set aside some extra dollars for World Hunger.  Now with doctor bills, jiu jitsu classes, baseball, groceries, clothes for always growing children, the hope that maybe even ONE of them will go to college, that we haven’t had a raise in years and that we already MORE than tithe, it’s downright hard to think of giving extra.  When you’re young and it’s just the two of you there’s lots of “time” on your hands to pray, listen to music, read, go hiking – any of the many things that can feed your soul.  Now I’m lucky if I manage to shower each day, let alone devote extra time to prayer.

Lent just isn’t what it used to be.  But maybe that’s the point.  As we grow in years, and hopefully in wisdom and faith as well, our practices will change as WE change.

Perhaps now instead of giving up something like chocolate, the fast should be more “cerebral” in nature.  Some people talk about fasting from bad attitudes, and I think that’s infinitely better for our faith and the sake of the world than 40 days without a Hershey bar.  For me, at this point in my life, I should probably fast from the computer.  Not that I could do without it completely in the world we live in now.  But this Lent I will try to spend less time looking at the screen, and more time looking into the faces of my children.

This Lent I may not give extra financial gifts – but I can make better use of the time I give to help neighbors in need and my church.  After all, giving alms isn’t just about giving money.  Alms are works of love that benefit our neighbors and our community.  If you find yourself financially strapped, then it is perfectly appropriate to give of your time or a talent.

Prayer is a tough one.  How can we say that we already pray enough?  Obviously we can NEVER pray enough.  And it’s not surprising that with three kids, all of whom have their special challenges, my time to enjoy the things that feed my soul, prayer included, suffer.  At least I’ve started playing guitar again, but that was really because the church needed a guitarist for its band.  I’ve enjoyed doing that, but honestly it IS work.  So extra prayer time?  Ha.  Except, instead of setting aside time in the chair, or time at the table with a devotional, just maybe I could spend that precious shower time in communion with God.  I mean, honestly, what better time could you have to reflect on your baptism and what that means than when water is pouring over you, making you feel clean and refreshed?  It’s perfect really.  It’s a re-orienting of how my time is spent, not trying to find “extra” time.

So, the struggle of Lent for me has been one of changing how I do it, as the person I am has changed.  It’s not as simple as it used to be, but neither is my life.  And while I used to see that as a bad thing, I now understand it’s all part of growing up – both in years, and in faith.

There are no “rules” for how each person can do Lent.  It’s a matter of exploring and strengthening where we are on our journey of faith.  However you find yourself doing that my prayers are with you, and I ask that yours be with me as well.  Blessed Lent…