I'm not really into Lent.
Winter is a hard time of year for me as it is and I don't need penance, fasting, and deprivation on top of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In this post, I explained that I am part of an evangelical gathering of believers who worship in a very modern, culturally-relevant way, but that as an individual I rely on more contemplative and traditional practices from varying faith traditions to connect with God.
Observing Lent falls into the personal practice category. Although a world-wide body of believers is in that space right now, the community of believers I belong to (not in "membership", but in relationship) is not. Therefore, it's easy for me to heartily embrace Advent but duck out of Lent, according to my own needs, as there is no accountability around me, no community pressure, for better or worse.
this photo is from a short working vacation
we took to the Gaspe Peninsula the end of February,
where we stayed at our friend's chalet
I don't like pressure, obligation or holier-than-thou attitudes around spiritual practices and I made a conscious choice, many years ago, to reject that model of faithfulness. Freedom is my rally cry of faith.
That being true, there is something to be said about how a culture - a family culture, church culture, societal culture - can encourage an individual in certain, not by pressure (the evidence of faith in self, not God) but by providing structures and supports, a framework that the individual can lean upon.
This year I am observing Lent, or my version of it. Joining with the body of believers who are doing likewise.
Considering my aversion to unnecessary discomfort during late winter, it's interesting how this came about.
I have anxiety and one of the ways anxiety affects me is that it muddies the waters of truth, making it difficult for me to discern the right path. And when I make mental or emotional space for lies about my identity, or the present reality, this can set me on a mental trajectory or chute that takes me from the starting point of discomfort, pain, or confusion (normal things) to "the world is ending" catastrophic thinking.
What this means is that if I'm in an anxiety-prone period of life or season I can be easily overwhelmed and derailed by outside messages and agendas.
This is why I have to limit the kinds of media I consume during certain life periods, and in general. I can go from 0 to overwhelm in record speed.
Outside messages and agendas come at me from all over the place. I think you probably can relate. We live in world of marketing and media. And as I've analyzed why my anxiety has bubbled to surface of my life now, in my late thirties and early forties, I think the pressure and prevalence of media (all forms) in my life is part of the picture, along with some serious insecurity issues triggered by longish periods of transition and perceived instability. As a Enneagram type 6 I am going to struggle with anxiety. The issue is not if, but how.
I am weary of being marketed to. (And everyone markets these days. Church's market, for heaven's sake.) I am weary of fighting against outside agendas and messages. Not all of these messages are bad, some are very good and necessary for me to hear but, the sheer number of them in my life makes it hard to discern truth. Even the fact that the waters are muddied so I can't find that clear water of truth easily, makes me anxious. My soul is weary of this battle - the vigilance required to discern truth (and how that tires me out) and the inevitable anxiety-response when I am not vigilant. I am sick of it. I am sick with it.
When I encounter people trying to sell me on their message, whether it's a sermon, a Facebook share, an impassioned opinion, or a cleverly written blog post, I wonder if they understand what it's like to experience anxiety in the context of that message. And what especially sickens and demoralizes me is that some messages are engineered and delivered with exact precision to trigger my anxiety - fear and scarcity-based marketing.
I have to be cautious, even with the benign messages, even when I'm fairly certain the intentions of the other person are not to manipulate me into action.
"Do you understand what I'm going through inside right now to filter what you're saying through what I know to be true for me. Do you understand the effort it takes for me to stay open to hear you while still guarding myself against an anxious response to this message?"
Guarding myself, while still remaining open. What a draining effort.
It's taken me a while to understand what's been going on, to give words and meaning to the scary sensations I feel. It's been a journey.
In January, while journaling one morning, laying out all my angst in this regard - what do I do with everyone else's agendas and ideas, the things people want me to get on board with, to see as they see - the Spirit spoke to me.
God, help me. God helped me.
Here's what I heard and wrote down: Be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart.
Now, this may not have comforted others, but it provided immediate comfort to me because I trust the Holy Spirit. I have personal, familial, and spiritual history that I can lean on in this regard. Not everyone does, and some people may have baggage around this, but this was a message for me that made sense and gave me a place to stand, for the moment at least.
What came to me immediately was relief, release. I can do this. I can be open to the work of the Spirit. This feels safe for me.
That got me through that day. As the week progressed and January became February I felt it impressed upon my heart to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart.
If my one directive here is to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart - heart in the Hebrew sense of the word as the seat of my intellect and my emotions, the center of my being - I need to know what I'm looking for as the manifestation and movement of the Holy Spirit.
So I set out to do a Bible study of the Spirit.
Last year, well before January's impression be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart, I was meditating on this passage of scripture:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
I Cor 2:12
It's something I need constant reminding of so I wrote it on a card and posted it to my inspiration board above my desk and when the year was over and I cleared the board for new inspiration, I pasted the card into my 2016 Journal as a remembrance of God's word for me.
The Spirit of God lives in me.
So if the Spirit lives in me, as the Bible tells me so, and I am to be open to the work of the Spirit in my heart (the center of my being), this means I can follow an inner compass, which is the Spirit, as I navigate my way through the world. As I filter the messages, media, and marketing, I can trust my inner-self of God's spirit in me, to find the right response to such things. This is the framework, the safe place, the standard I can use to discern every other message in my life.
I'm currently studying the scriptures about the Spirit to know how I can recognize the Spirit in me. How does the Spirit lead? What does the Spirit point us to, or rather who does the Spirit point us to? How will I recognize the Holy Spirit? What will it look like for the Spirit to move in me? How does the Spirit speak? I need to know what I can trust, what will be the standard for me.
This is how and why I was led to observe Lent this year. I felt the Spirit gently guiding me this way, inviting me, and I said yes.
This is the reason I haven't published anything to the blog for weeks because I feel the Spirit asking me to let go of the practice and discipline of blogging for Lent (or a modified Lent, the month of March), and to instead spend that time, which is the early morning hours (before 9 am) in scripture, prayer, and journalling. And lest this sounds too disciplined, I'm also sleeping in some days because... freedom from striving.
This list is from Pilgrim Year
A couple years ago my self-confidence was severely undermined by a disconnect from true self and the resulting anxiety, burn-out, and breakdown from that disconnect. This loss of confidence affected my blogging. On the positive side of things, I believe my writing has developed a depth of experience and honesty that it never had before. However, as I dig for the beauty, truth/honesty, and kindness to share from my experiences, writing takes a long time; nothing comes fast, quick, or easy. My posts are fewer and longer.
My blog readership dropped, maybe because of the change in writing, change in the content (less how-to homeschool, how-to make soap), and because I'm just not into marketing myself.
After I lost my confidence I had no vision except to find my footing, to find self and be true to her.
This has started to happen, slowly. It's a two steps forward, one step back kind of movement.
I have a re-growing, and hopefully true to self, ambition for my writing and direction for my blog.
Stepping aside from writing for a time, laying down my striving towards these aims while also accepting past losses, is an act of trust, an act of release. I'm trusting the Spirit to steward and lead this next stage of my writing.
Part of me is deeply uncomfortable sharing this because I am suspicious when people are public about their lenten sacrifices and about lenten practices in general. I often wonder, what is the agenda behind sharing such things?
Obedience, sacrifice, confession, repentance these are deeply personal spiritual practices, best shared in a trusted community. Unfortunately these practices and postures of the heart can become yokes that people are pressured into bearing. But condemnation, fear of failure, inadequacy is not how the Spirit moves us into spiritual discipline.
Fear is not of the Spirit, period. The Spirit invites, and sometimes persists in the inviting, but never coerces. And we have complete free will in how we respond. And we are loved regardless and we stand free of condemnation, regardless.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
II Cor 3:17
So, that's what's going on. And that is why, after this post, you probably won't see another post till April.
My new blog is almost ready to roll out and I may interrupt this break to make that announcement. That is a project set in motion months and months ago and is not something I feel called to set aside right now as it is a joint endeavour with Damien and is not about my morning writing time, but a different part of blogging all together - "the platform" and structure that supports and publishes the writing.
Before I started this blogging fast I spent over a week writing a piece that just wouldn't ring true and so it never did get published, so it's been really quiet here for almost a month and I wanted you to know that this quiet is not because I'm laid low with SAD or anxiety, though some days I am fighting these for all I'm worth.
I'm using Pilgrim Year as my reading guide for Lent. And something I've gleaned from those readings is the re-orient and re-order intention and purpose for a Lenten fast.
And this is what I want in my life right now. A re-ordering of desires, a re-orienting of myself towards a life led by the Spirit.
I could write so much more about this time but I think that would move me beyond the ken of what I'm supposed to share right now. I have given myself some hours this weekend to write this update and now I'm done.
Love, Truth and Freedom, friends.
I'll be back soon.
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