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Leaving LentBy Greg Garrett
I had such big plans for this Lent. After past seasons where I temporarily renounced things (Diet Coke, meat, dessert) or took on things (like the Lent when Cathy Boyd, Billy Tweedie, and I decided to take on bluegrass as a spiritual discipline), I had isolated a practice I thought would be a good fit for this stage of my life, one full of joy and difficulty: I was going to read and re-read the Psalms, and simultaneously to read N. T. Wright’s book The Case for the Psalms, a book on praying and living the Psalms back into the center of our spiritual lives.
That, at least, was my plan.
Then, as many of the people reading this will understand only too well, I looked up from my already complicated life, from the fifteen additional commitments Lent had added to my calendar, and I realized I had lost my momentum entirely.
I complained about this to Joe Barry, my spiritual director since seminary days. I told him I felt I was helping others experience Lent, but not participating in a holy experience of it myself, and he nodded. Like me, like you, like all Professional Christians, he understands how we can become busy caring for others and neglect spiritual self-care.
But he also knows that since I am a writer and speaker, Lent is always going to be one of my busiest times of the year.
And so—because Joe is a terrific spiritual director—he offered some guidance on how God might be moving in my life at this present moment, difficult as it is.
As he repeated my lament, it was this: “What I planned for Lent isn’t happening. Where AM I meeting God?”
And he suggested I was meeting God in lots of ways and lots of people, even though it wasn’t in the Psalms where I had expected to be able to confine that encounter.
First, by the way, Joe offered a practical suggestion: maybe Lent is never going to be a great time for people like me to add a spiritual discipline, even though these 40 days are the traditional time we do such things.
“What about taking on some new spiritual exploration during the 50 days of Easter?” he asked, telling me about a suggestion from Richard Rohr he was finding valuable. “In those 50 days we experience the risen Christ,” he began, and I just started nodding as he went on. It made sense that post-Lent, post-Holy Week, might be the proper time for me to feed myself.
Then Joe invited me to recognize the two-way flow that was taking place whenever I preached or taught or engaged in conversation with people, the exchange and vulnerability, the spiritual gifts I was being offered by others as a direct result of whatever I was offering them.
He was totally right. I thought about the stories I had been given the previous Sunday by people in Tulsa where I’d gone to preach and teach, about the confidences I’d been offered, about the inspiration I might have been absorbing if I had only been a little less self-absorbed.
And that’s where I find myself now.
I haven’t given up on Lent. Lent is still happening to me and around me.
What I’ve given up on is my belief I can dictate how God is going to speak to me during Lent.
So I’m listening.
And I’m anticipating Easter more than ever this year.
Thanks be to God.
Greg Garret (@Greg1Garrett) currently serves as the Writer-in-Residence at Seminary of the Southwest. As a member of the adjunct faculty of the seminary, Greg helps future leaders of the Church to write, interpret, and communicate effectively.
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