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March 8, 2012

Lisa Nichols Hickman: Confessions of a mid-Lent crisis

I have never completed a Lenten discipline.

Such confession may cause you to breathe a sigh of relief or perhaps make a judgment. Recently a parishioner heard me say this in all its honesty, “Really, you too?” Certainly I have tried to be disciplined. I have made charts to plot the journey and laid out calendars to mark off those exhilarating moments when the discipline was seen through for the day. I have worn bracelets of reminder and called upon friends for accountability. I’ve tried the Forty Days of Purpose and the Serendipity Study Bible charts and graphs.

But always something causes me to lose my focus, to lay down the cross thereby leaving me unable to cross this desire off my list: to complete a Lenten discipline.

Eugene Peterson says, “Disciplines are overrated. Discipline is a word that should be struck from our theological lexicon.” Some might hear his words as dismissive for those of us seeking to be disciplined disciples of Christ. But others might nudge from these words the deepest of truths: Christ is Lord and Savior, not us. My failure helps me to follow the one who is discipline, the one who is disciplined, the one who calls us to follow him -- not our charts, plots or ploys. We are saved by grace, not by our own doings or undoings.

Still, echoes of all those Lenten “shoulds” reverberate through my mind and heart.

If I am to strike “discipline” from my theological lexicon, then what am I to “do” this Lent?

This Lent I’ve been reading Lauren Winner’s “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.” Winner encourages a new Lenten practice of letting go of theLauren Winner book “shoulds." She speaks of the “logismoi,” the Desert Father's name for the internal narratives that deform us: gluttony, greed, dejection, anger, pride, listlessness, vainglory and lust. My prayer, with her encouragement, is to live into new conversations this Lent. This Lent will be less about limitation and instead an invitation to listen.

So I start to listen to those internal narratives. I hear a lot of this: “if only,” “when…,” “I wish,” “later,” “I don’t want to,” “I want,” “I should, “if…. then.” And I begin to realize these may be my internal narratives, but they certainly are not incarnational ones.

Even in the first words Jesus utters, he invites us into a new narrative. “Let it be so now,” Jesus commands in Matthew 3:15. “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News,” Mark 1:15 offers. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49 tells the story of Jesus’ conversation with the rabbis in the temple. “Come and you will see,” he says in John 1:39.

These words call us to do three things: get out of our heads, get into the sanctuary and get out into the broken world to serve. Now. Internal narratives are easy. They reverberate with the “logismoi” of gluttony, greed, dejection, anger, pride, listlessness, vainglory and lust. Christ turns these conversations around with simple commands: Now. Come. Repent. Know. See.

As a leader in the church, there are days I ache and pray for new conversations. Can we let go of some of our old litanies?

Can our churches let go of some of the “logismoi” that bind us and live into the lexicon Christ teaches? The church lives and breathes, all too often, phrases like: “if only,” “when,” “I wish,” “I want,” “if… then,” instead of the corporate narratives offered by Christ: Now. Come. Repent. Know. See.

If I strike “discipline” from the theological lexicon, I have a few new words to add. These words, by grace, save us and guide us through Lent as we listen to a new conversation that is much less internal, and much more incarnational.

Now. Come. See.

Lisa Nichols Hickman is pastor of New Wilmington Presbyterian Church in New Wilmington, Penn.


Thank you for this much

Thank you for this much needed word, Lisa. And thanks, too, for the added encouragement to pick up Winner's "Still".


Wow! Great timing, Lisa. Thank you.

Lent crisis

Sometimes I wonder if giving up something for lent is steering us in the wrong spiritual direction prior to during, and after lent . Does Easter allow us to go back to our old habit ? I too think Eugene Peterson is on to something about what God wants from us. I appreciate your mid-Lenten confession, Lisa! Thank you as always for your perspective.

Lenten Discipline

I understand the essential gist of the article; agree in principle. And I've read, and admired Peterson. Yet, take utmost caution in striking out particular terms in the theological lexicon- such as 'discipline.' Because if that is done, then 'disciple' would have to be eradicated next. Why? The term disciple means 'disciplined one!'


Well said Jimmy -

Maybe the difference between disciple and discipl(in)e - is what we put out faith 'in' - Christ or ourselves.

Will you work that out with one of your amazing poems and fill me in on an answer? : )

Lenten letdown

I find this to be very encouraging, Lisa! In ministering with youth it's especially hard to approach Lenten disciplines without being superficial ... you see a lot of #diet on Twitter around the beginning of the season. I've been trying to communicate the need for life rather than Lent disciplines and that seems to be getting through. Thank you for the insight!


Thanks for this article. I just found it and appreciate the shift in focus from should to Now, Come, See. You have raised an important theological point- being present with God Now and offering what you can right now. Needed to be reminded!

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