Monday, February 16, 2015

Lenten disciplines in a time of turmoil

Yesterday, I celebrated at a parish that's going through a rough patch. I was planning to preach on the Transfiguration and psychedelic drugs, but I ended up giving them this list of Lenten disciplines instead. I think they might be more generally useful, and so I'm sharing them here. Please know that this list is not in any way proscriptive. If it is helpful, then use it, and if not, not. These are just some thoughts I’ve had in the past couple of days that might be useful for groups or individuals, depending on what's going on for them. Take what you need and leave the rest.

5 things to give up 
  1. Give up ascribing motives. I find that this is incredibly difficult because what we each want to know is why. Why did this happen? And that’s why it’s so tempting to try to figure out people’s motivations. It gives meaning to the story that we’re currently confused about. But for right now, all we can really determine is what did or did not happen, what was or was not done. Ascribing motives leads us to be suspect of the positive behaviors of those we disagree with (“I wonder what s/he’s really trying to get from me”), or to excuse the negative behaviors of those in our camp (“but s/he didn’t mean it”). 
  2. Give up figuring out what you or anyone else should have done or could have done. It didn’t happen. For whatever reason, whatever it is you think should have happened didn’t happen. There is no use trying to go back because whatever it is that happened is in the past. Yes, we can learn from this. But now, in the midst of the crisis, is not the best time. Let it go. Forgive yourself and others. 
  3. Give up the need to be right. Every single person is going to have a perspective on what is going on, based on personal experience, history, and the information s/he possesses. That perspective is neither more nor less right than your own. When we give up the need to be right, it helps us to listen, to recognize that this person’s perspective is valid without needing to answer, without needing to prove, without it being a springboard to our own response. 
  4. Give up anticipating the future. We don’t know what the future will hold. We don’t know what new development may appear even as soon as tomorrow. When we anticipate the future, it closes us off to other possible futures that the Holy Spirit may want to lead us into – the possibility that God, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. 
  5. Give up trying to fix or save. It’s such a temptation to leap in with grand gestures and solutions to everything. But at this point, fixing or saving is more about trying to reach an anticipated future or trying to correct the past. 

5 things to take on

That’s not to say that we should sit back and do nothing. There are things we can do, things we can take on for Lent. They may seem simple, but I believe they are the actions that will bring healing, trust, and community.

  1. Take on small kindnesses. One thing I learned early on in my ministry was that there was a much better chance I could be there for people when they were in the middle of a crisis if I was there for people in all of the small, day to day things. One percent of the time, they needed me to show up when something went really wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they just needed me to answer their friggin’ email. What are the small kindnesses we can do to care for one another? The accretion of these small gestures, day after day, are what is going to make the difference in the long run, building the foundation of trust, support, and hope as you work together. 
  2. Take on time to pause and reflect. In the midst of temptation to do something to make things better, sometimes the best thing to do is to sit quietly, look around, and see where you are. And that may mean feeling a range of feelings: sorrow, anger, relief, grief, guilt, confusion... But I believe that it is in sitting there and feeling the feelings that the healing hand of God is allowed to enter. It’s when we show God our wounds that we are able to be healed. And that happens when we take time to actually find the parts that hurt. 
  3. Take on smiling at each other. This sounds very small, but I think there’s something important that happens when we simply look at one another and smile. Please note that I’m not saying, “Keep on smilin’!” What I’m trying to get at here is staying connected with one another with hope. You don’t need to agree about anything to acknowledge another person’s humanity and connection to you. 
  4. Take on breathing. It’s amazing how important this is and how much it helps. About a week ago, I got a “Wellness Newsletter” from our HR department. I was stressed and anxious about a ton of things I needed to do and said to myself, “I don’t have time for this ‘Wellness’ crap!” But I looked at it, and on the list of suggestions of things to do, it said, “Breathe 3 times.” Well, I figured I had time to do that. So I breathed 3 times. And then, because it felt so good, I breathed a fourth time. And I was thrown by how much difference this small thing made in how I felt about the day. So when the anxiety comes up, breathe three times. Maybe four. 
  5. Take on the mantra, “All will be well.” Julian of Norwich was a 14th Century anchoress and mystic who lived through the plague that wiped out 1/3 of the population of Europe. In the midst of this and in the midst of her own suffering, she received this word: “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall all be very well.” It may be helpful to remember that in the grand scheme of things, this is all small potatoes. As you breathe, remind yourself that all will be well, and all will be well, and all things will all be well. God loves you. God will always love you. God will always be with you, no matter what. And all manner of things shall all be very well.


c4peace said...

Thank you. This is just what I needed for this Lenten season! I too am struggling with the state of the world. I just read the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirshi Ali, and considered giving up on faith altogether. But in the depth of my soul, I believe and cannot do that. These suggestions of what to give up will be a good place for stepping back and reflection during the Lent season. Again, thank you and 'All will be well".

piman said...

This was very useful today when I visited the local DMV office. During the long wait, I reflected on the level of frustration that was flowing through the office. I moved so a family could sit together, I complimented a lady on her smile, and I smiled at and thanked the people doing their jobs. It did not get me out of there any sooner, but I tried to turn the frustration into a little good. It turned out to be not a horrible experience on Ash Wednesday.

Anonymous said...

You have touched on some very pertinent difficult issues and solutions for me.....thanks....I am struggling with many aspects of me which involves my relationships with God and other people....I need all I can get!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of these! I'm sorry to hear you've been so busy that it takes HR wellness to remind you to breathe in and out ... but I'm very happy to see you back blogging again :)