Great Lent: The Hard Lessons

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Ash Wednesday.

It’s exceptionally late this year, and still, I am not quite ready for it.

The first Wednesday after Transfiguration Sunday, every year. From light to dark, from triumph to seeming defeat, from intimations of divinity to the deepest confirmation of humanity — that’s how the church year flows.

We enjoyed communion together on Transfiguration Sunday and a lovely reflection on Light, with a capital “L.” I loved the candles everywhere, and a couple of old hymns mixed in with the more contemporary music of the day.

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I have written many times about the power of the sacraments in my own journey, the bread, the cup, the font. These simple, tangible things speak so loudly to me, reminding me of the heart of our story — God come low, encased in flesh, suffering as we all do, finding glory in the small things. (Remember those lilies of the field?)

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The candles everywhere this last Sunday were another tactile reminder of spiritual truth: we are called to shine, to reflect the Light that is ours because of Jesus, to be lamps on the hill, steadily showing the way home. 

These days, however, my lamp is flickering at best, on its way to extinguishing at worst. And right here, right here, in the midst of the low light — this is Lent for me in 2014. I find myself sidelined, unable to do the things I am used to doing. So I am looking for quiet activities, challenges, practices. So, I will be reading through the New Testament with Margaret Feinberg and Shelly Miller. And I will try to be gentle with myself and with those I love, as Elizabeth Esther has invited us to do. 

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And through all of that, I am trying to pursue my word for this year, this difficult year, with it’s difficult word — obedient. 

I am also working through several books, written by friends I’ve met online. “Found,” by Micha Boyett, “Spiritual Misfit,” by Michelle DeRusha, “Unfollowers,” by Ed Cyzewski (and Derek Cooper), and “Love Idol,” by Jennifer Dukes Lee, to name four.

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And it’s that last one that has me over a Lenten barrel this year. Jen is asking us to name our ‘love idols,’ those things that get in the way of fully entering into the identity that is ours because of Jesus. Our hunger for approval, our insatiable need to perform so we’ll be loved, our try-harder, there’s-not-enough-to-go-round roller coaster-riding attempts to earn accolades/acceptance/inclusion/identity.

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And I gotta say, I’m not likin’ this exercise very much. Not much at all. 

All my life I have worked hard. I have mastered certain skills, learned to smile through the pain, proven myself competent and capable, convinced that I need to do it all myself because I am strong! I am sturdy! I am BIG! 

Painted in WaterlogueBut when I receive those ashes tomorrow night — when I read and hear the familiar words, “From dust you were created, to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel” — I will be struggling not to dissolve in a very un-sturdy puddle.

Because this Lent, I am painfully aware of how very, very dusty I am. I find myself needing to ask for help, to let others do for me what I am oh-so-capable of doing for myself, thank-you-very-much. Because right now? I am feeling my limits, I am carrying my infirmities, I am feeling hemmed in and strung out and so, so tired.

I have learned how to be quite self-sufficient in my life. I can take care of myself (and several others) without too much difficulty most of the time. And that has led me to a very tricky place, a particularly painful bend in the road. I cannot do what I am used to doing. I simply cannot. These split-tears in the peroneus brevis tendon of my left foot have me hobbled, literally.*

I need to be still, not active. I need to move slowly, not quickly. I need to stay put.

And everything in me is resisting this reality, fighting against it with anger and discouragement and confusion.

And I.AM.STUCK.

Whether I like it or not — and I most assuredly do not!I cannot be self-sufficient for a while. So I am being forced to look at this idol of mine, full frontal, and it is not a pretty sight. 

For too many years, I have relied on my sturdy constitution, a moderately good mind and my natural interest in caring for others to distract me from the truth: I cannot do this life on my own. I need other people to help me through and most of all, I need to acknowledge that God is God and I am not.

So as Lent unfolds, I will be searching my heart, opening the closets of my soul, and blowing the dust out of the corners of my mind in an attempt to get my priorities straight.
The idol of self-sufficiency has got to go. 

What is being asked of you for Lent this year?

 

 

*And I may very well be facing into surgery and a long recovery. Your prayers would be appreciated.

Joining this with Michelle, Jen, Jennifer, Laura.

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Comments

  1. I’ve been praying for you, Diana, for full recovery and restoration. And while it seems like those prayers might not be affected you ankle, foot, and leg, it does seem as though He is restoring your heart to be dependent on Him and others in a way you have not been able to receive before. And this will be good. Hard, but good.

    • Thanks so much, Jen, for your faithfulness in prayer for me. I think I’m going to give this boot and add in some crutches for another month, so I’m hanging on by a thread here, trying to give my body space and time to heal itself without intervention. And in the process, I’m hoping to learn more of what God is teaching me right now — about letting go of control (I think you just might relate to this one??) and relaxing into his care for me and also? Asking for help when I need it!

  2. Diana, you do not tread this uncertain path alone. This feeling of being sidelined, of not being strong, capable, self sufficient and caring for others? It’s deeply familiar to me. Been my identity for over 20 years now. Yet I was a nurse, bustling around seeing to the needs of others, a wife and a mother before M.E and other problems felled me into the dusty ditch of dis-ease. I wish I could say it gets easier. Adjustments over time can mean assuming a new, unwanted identity.

    Yet there are grace glimmers shining bright in dark places. I often think God took me out of an active life because He needed me to deal with issues and this was a way to secure my full attention. Set on the path I’d planned, much of my past would have remained an unexplored, foreign country. It’s been painful (still is) but I am grateful for the golden nuggets of His Presence bringing forth creativity, hope and light.

    And my prayer for you, my friend, is to experience full recovery, healing and restoration even as He teaches you to be still, whispers close His love and care in the darkest hours. May you reap the blessings on the other side of the pain and find His grace all sufficient for every need.

    • Joy, I thought of you as I was writing this one. You and Tanya Marlowe and Sheila Lagrand — each of you dealing with long-term, chronic illness and the frustrations and limits of that. That is certainly one thing this season is teaching me – empathy for people who live with pain all.the.time. Praying for all of us, that we might see Jesus here somehow and that we might shine, despite the limits placed on us. I love your love idol post, my friend, and completely understand the whole ‘identity’ question that something like this raises in our spirits. May you be blessed as you continue to wrestle it out.

  3. Sheila Dailie says:

    Diana, beautifully described and illustrated, but so gut-wrenchingly true! I see echoes of this within my spirit also, as I have in so many of the confessions of fellow pilgrims on this “Love Idol” Lenten journey.

    When I was struggling with meeting the demands of my brain-trauma-ed mom, I began to understand that “Misery loves company” wasn’t so much about complaining, but that it helps to know that others have or in the process of walking a similar path.

    Praying for your patience in this side-lined time, as you lean on Christ and His bride, the church.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Sheila. I’m also dealing with a brain-traumaed mom (through dementia) and I KNOW the truth of sacred ‘company’ on this journey. Looks like I’ll be learning even more about that in the weeks and months ahead.

  4. Diana–

    you give so freely
    lavish riches
    it is time, likely past time
    that you allow yourself to receive
    open wide and He will pour in

  5. Diana, I read this with such sadness. I heard from an old friend yesterday that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and today I hear from you, a very new friend that you are in pain and finding life a struggle. I can hope to be of some practical help to my friend over here but to you, thousands of miles away I can only offer my prayers. But I will keep you most closely in prayer during this Lent.

    • Your words are help in and of themselves Juliet. Love your friend well, friend – as much as she will let you. And your prayers are very much appreciated. Thank you.

  6. Diana- I can relate to your stuckness…winter blues have had their way with me this year…just today the Lord Jesus lifted up my countenance and smeared my forehead with ashes…a call to repent and believe the Good News! His unfailing love can get me unstuck! Praying for you to feel surrounded by His love and mercy…tenderly herding you into his enfolding arms.
    Blessings-Kel from SDG party!

    • I’m just back from our evening Ash Wednesday service and am reminded of my mortality, but also of the truth of God’s love. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting today, Kel. I appreciate it!

  7. i am finally getting here with a few minutes to post. You have been much on my heart today. I am so glad you let us in on how it is right now. When I think of you , in my mind i hold you up to God to be to you what you need at that moment. Love to you my new friend

  8. This is TRUTH. I have been very sick this winter and am coming face-to-face with my infirmities. My limitations. I have NO energy. 🙁 But I am finding God in this, too. Thankful for your post today.

    • Oh, E.E.! I’m so sorry you’ve been sick. NOT fun. But God does meet us there, even there. Grateful for you invitation to a gentle Lent this year.

  9. Diana, this sounds like such a disconcerting and frustrating turn of events! I’m praying that you will have some sweet rest and perhaps experience in a fresh way how Jesus’ burden is light (a concept which I puzzle over some, being used to viewing the Christian life as an impossible burden that we are called to do the best we can with).

    You asked what we are think God may be asking of us this Lent. I think I may be asked to give up my chronic negative self-talk and accept, instead, the generous messages of encouragement and love which come my way.

    • Thanks so much, Elena. I find it interesting that all of this developed AFTER I began this blog series. The problem/injury existed before, but I saw the doctor and had the MRI after. Sort of like learning what I’m writing about in the NOW, right?

      And I think giving up chronic negative self-talk is a great idea for Lent fasting!!! Praying you’ll find room to receive all the encouragement you need and deserve.

  10. Oh, Diana, I so wish I lived down the street from you and could come and help….do something. This is a hard season and I appreciate you letting us in on the journey. My idol? Well, there are two, which I’ll be writing about soon. One is false responsibility (oldest of 5 who took care of everyone while my mom worked–no surprise there.) It sounds a lot like self-sufficiency. I think the key to letting go of that “I gotta do this’ is just resting in His ‘It is done’, as you have said.
    You will be in my prayers–that is a promise.

  11. This was beautiful in it’s honesty. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Your honesty and wisdom, caring and sense of humor have endeared you to my heart, Diana, even though we’ve never met. It saddens me greatly that you are going through a season of pain, of not being able to tackle life with your usual gusto. But I’m glad to read your affirmation that you’ll try to be gentle with yourself! Indeed. Just as you are a gentle soul to your family (especially your mother) and to the people at your church where you serve, YOU, too, deserve gentleness.

    Humility has become my word for Lent–not of my own choosing! It came up in my current Bible study. One humility-habit I’m trying to incorporate into my life: turn prideful thoughts into praise. Anything that might be commendable in my life is because of Jesus. He’s the one who deserves the credit!

    • Humility is a great word for Lent. Perfect, in fact. Lenten blessings as you pursue more of it. And thanks for kind words – I appreciate them (and you!) so much.

  13. Diana, I waited because you know from my last post some of what I might say, and I didn’t want to repeat any of my own story. What I can say is that I will pray for your recovery and I will pray that you not give up just yet, on the active life you have led. You have a lot to give in many areas and I hope you heal and return to full speed if you can, for as long as you can. In the mean time, rest up.
    Newell

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