40 Days

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. We didn’t celebrate Lent. Certainly, Easter was a big deal, you know, being the whole point of the faith and all, but the liturgical calendar was totally foreign to me. As an adult, we’ve started going to a United Methodist church. Our church keeps a much more structured calendar of the “Seasons of Christianity,” if you will. This has been a wonderful learning experience for me in church history, theology and doctrine.

Last year, one of our Sunday School teachers asked what our emotional baggage might be regarding the season of Lent. He’d asked a similar question about Christmas and Easter, and I’d been able to give an answer. The purpose of the question is to identify your issues and put aside your known preconceptions and think about the season in a new way. But when it came to Lent, I had no preconceived notions. I had no experience from which to draw feelings or emotions. It had been a strictly academic exercise for me.

This year feels different. My friend Sarabeth struck a chord with her post about Lent. She writes, “I am looking forward to the paring down, the stripping away.” I absolutely relate to that. I’m no different than everyone else I know: It feels like I’m doing too much with too little. I’ve made efforts in the past year to restructure my life; to make it less complicated, less overwhelming. I’ve had some success with that, though not nearly enough. I still feel like the garlic press of responsibility pushes on me just the tiniest bit harder every day. And I am so tired.

The 40 days of Lent are said to symbolize the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. I’ve checked our bank account and there’s no way I can spend the next 40 days at a spa (my version of the wilderness) reflecting, meditating and getting facials. Even I cannot find a way to equate hot rock massages with spiritual growth, and I can justify almost anything.

So I have decided to participate in the real spirit of the next 40 days. I’m going to start paring down and stripping away the unnecessary pieces in my life. I’m not going to resolve to give up chocolate or red meat, as I have in the past. I’m going to actually give up the things I don’t need or don’t need any more.

When we were kids, my mother would periodically force my sister and I to clean out our bedrooms. (We had hoarder tendencies.) She would pull out everything in our toy boxes, from under the bed and out of our closets. She had an “everything goes” plan, unless we could justify why it should stay. “Does it have a purpose?” was her question. “It’s pretty,” or “I like it,” were not an acceptable answers.

It’s time to clean out my life’s closets: does it have a purpose? what’s on my calendar that doesn’t need to be? what activities are draining me instead of filling me up? what relationships are toxic? what groups need me to step aside so someone better equipped can step up? do I have something to contribute to this group or do I just like the status of being here? what can be delegated? where do I really want to go? what gets me closer? what’s in the way?

I have no idea how this will turn out, but I am genuinely excited about the prospect of cleaning out the clutter and the noise. I yearn for peace.

UPDATE: Apparently, my little blog world is all thinking about about “letting go” today. My friend Boots also has some moving thoughts on the subject.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “40 Days

  1. I love this as a response to this season. I hope you’ll let us know how it goes…

  2. I am in the same boat with you, being Baptist and switching to Methodist that is. I honestly can’t keep up with all the church holidays, and I still don’t understand whatever this period of time is called.

    I have yet to develop an emotional pull to give up something, so I usually refuse because I want meaning behind what I do rather than just doing something blindly. I like your perspective on it here though, might be something to think about for me.

  3. Cheryl

    I grew up without a church home, really. But, over the past 25 years of my life we have gone to church at churches centered (some loosely) around the Church of Christ faith. As I had no formal church background, I deferred to Mark’s religion. It’s not like I really cared at that point. So, needless to say, we never followed church holidays such as Advent or Lent. I’m still not sure what Advent really is even though we lit the candles and positioned the banner this year.

    We joined the First Christian Church last year in March. So, this year we are participating in Lent. Mark sent me a link so that I could educate myself. I’m excited at the prospect of playing an active part in my own relationship with God for a change. We are giving up sweets, although I much prefer your take on all of this and may change my mind at the 11th hour. Thanks for a great post.

  4. justin

    i can empathize with you and grag to an extent. I was raised baptist, as well. But, the baptist church we attend here in Little Rock actually gives a nod toward Advent and Lent. It was a little odd at first, but i’ve kind of gotten used to it. I’m with Greg in that I’m reluctant to do anything simply ‘because it’s Lent’. It’s also kind of let down, since as Protestants, we don’t get Fat Tuesday. 🙂

  5. Patti Julian

    Oddly enough, and some thing you have years yet to find out, Lent is a little like turning 50. A time of stripping away what really isn’t important to you, and turning your focus to what is; the people you love, the groups who do something that truly touches your heart. You also discover one of the priveleges of age is the ability to say “no thanks”. So just think of it this way, if you get all this practice during Lent over the next 15 or 20 years, turning fifty will be a breeze for you.

  6. A truly lovely post. Its good to see you let go and show your softer side.

  7. I grew up in Arkansas, a Missionary Baptist, and knew nothing about Lent. Recently, I was asked what I was giving up, and felt really out of the loop.

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