I don't know about you, but the fact that today is Ash Wednesday makes me wonder where January went. I'm still finding stray Christmas ornaments in weird places around my house.
But regardless of the fact that I feel like Advent has barely ended, it's time to gear up and figure out what I'm sacrificing for Lent.
What came to my mind wasn't a need to stop eating caramel corn from the Jersey Shore or vanilla lattes from Starbucks (to which I say, thank you, Jesus). But two things that are standing in the way of my spiritual freedom surfaced in my heart. I believe wholeheartedly in this truth: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Jesus takes it really seriously when something is standing in the way of the freedom He gave everything to purchase for me. He's telling me that these things NEED TO GO, not just during the season of Lent, but for good.
Here they are:
Oh joy. I just look at those two things and see the uphill climb involved in breaking the hold of old habits and side stepping well-worn ruts in the road. Striving-trying my hardest- has been my go-to way of behaving. The thought of not doing it makes me worry that I won't accomplish anything at all. Comparing myself to others has caused me to run my race faster as I've always enjoyed a little healthy competition. But when it becomes an unhealthy distraction, and actually leads to discontentment? Not good. That's a form a bondage that Jesus doesn't want to see in my life.
Striving goes beyond working hard. It's white-knuckling and ignoring the inkling that maybe it's ok for things not to be perfect. It's looking at what I need to get done and being intolerant of the thought of not finishing well. Writer and research professor Brené Brown describes the dig deep button as “a secret level of pushing through when we're exhausted and overwhelmed and when there's too much to do and too little time for self-care.” This unhealthy pressing forward has been my norm for far too long.
Comparing myself to others is looking in someone else's garden and thinking they have it better or easier. It's thinking their spiritual gifts are better than mine. It's thinking my obstacles are higher, my limitations are greater, and their teeth are whiter. Whatever. Once I'm on a roll, all sorts of things can make the list.
There's very little point in saying I want to be free of these things if I'm not willing to actually do something about it. So these are some of the ways I'm going to work on this during Lent:
I'm going to stop trying so hard.
Even as I write that, I get nervous. Because isn't trying hard what gets me where I need to go? My kids are going to read this and think I'll never make them dinner again.
Here's the deal- sometimes we need to over correct in order to get back to a place of balance. So when I feel like I'm really trying hard and am hitting the dig deep button, I'm going to stop. I'm going to ask God if it's ok if I just let Him run with the task for a bit. Trying hard is going to be a signal to me that I need to assess what's really going on. I'll probably make dinner anyway, but I might take a fifteen-minute break to refresh myself and let the meal be late.
My anthem for Lent is going to be It Is Well by Bethel Music.
I'm going to sing this song every day, from my heart. When life feels out of control and less than what I'd hoped for, I'm going to sing, “It is well with my soul.”
Because it is.
Because the most important things are being taken care of by God.
Because it isn't up to me.
Because He is in charge.
Because not one thing, not one pain, not one inconvenience, not one obstacle intersects my life without God having measured me Him against the hardship. And if the suffering has been allowed, that means He concluded that apart from Him, I can do nothing, but with Him, this can be endured and overcome.
While the road up looks pretty steep, I know that it isn't up to me to break these chains. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, St. Paul reminds us, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This is deep soul work, and this is where the Holy Spirit reaches in and heals. Oh come, Holy Spirit.
And I'm going to close my eyes and listen for the memory of my Minnesotan grandmother's voice. If she was still here, I think she might say, “Lisa girl, there is a different way to live. Back when I was raising our family, we didn't experience the pressure and pace that you do. Keep searching for that freedom. Relax a little. Let go.”
So I'm going to listen to her advice-to relax, let go and breathe. Would you like to join me? Listen to these wise words in the following video. Their mature, seasoned voices encourage us to continue to seek freedom in a world full of demands and impossibly high standards.
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