What to do when a Lenten practice fails.
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 the “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.