Five Minute Friday: hidden

It’s been a good albeit long week of summer. We watched a summer movie ($1 at Regal), shopped for school shoes (already!), I had an interview on the Debbie Chavez show, we played at the pool a lot and did a lot of indoor activities trying to stay cool during a sweltering week. Today I take a break and return to the blog, joining in Five Minute Friday.

Five Minute Friday is my favorite of writing link-ups hosted by Kate Motaung. Her description draws me back every week, and the community of FMF keeps me writing – “This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. Just write.”

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Hidden holds intrigue and promise, like a buried treasure waiting to be found. It’s a new life blooming within a mother’s womb. A long cherished love that awaits the right time to be expressed.

Hidden is also shame-tinged. It’s where I store my latest failure – bolted, safe, secure, for no one to see. If you’ve been abused, you know the burden of a hidden secret.

Hidden is good or bad, depending on what it is we are hiding and why. If it’s the latter – the long-buried secret – it needs the light for healing and freedom. Those sorts of burdens aren’t meant to stay hidden and borne alone. Speak about it with someone safe. Feel the burden begin to lighten.

If it’s the first – the type of hidden that’s like a treasure waiting to be found – I can think of no better analogy for what the Bible calls us children of God: “hidden with Christ in God.” We are God’s treasured ones, kept close and precious. Our glory is waiting to be revealed. 

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devotionals worth reading in 2015

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/1bc/1176043/files/2014/12/img_7639.jpgAs this year draws to a close, I am preparing a list of my top 10 books of 2014 (drumroll, please?), as I did at the end of 2013. In the meantime, I wanted to offer you a few recommendations if you are looking for a devotional reading for 2015. What I’m referring to is a resource written to help you understand the Bible and the Christian life, giving you daily encouragement for your journey of faith. I have found a good devotional and a daily Bible reading plan to be essential to nurture my faith. It provides a space for me to bring my questions, doubts, joys, and sorrows; and I know that I am heard by God and through the Bible, God speaks to my heart. Some favorite words on the value of daily time spent in prayer and study of God’s Word from spiritual director and author, Henri Nouwen:

“When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. … solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and God alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that God is actively present in our lives– healing, teaching and guiding– we need to set aside a time and space to give God our undivided attention. (Matt 6:6) … We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with Him and Him alone. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. Solitude is a place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world.”

365-day devotionals (note: it usually takes me way more than one year to get through one of these!) –

  • Grace Through the Ages by William P. Smith – I’ve written about this one in the past. It’s incredibly rich, and it’s written by a friend and former counseling colleague and supervisor. I love the way Bill discusses grace, and the way he shows how grace is on every page of Scripture.
  • Heart of the Matter by CCEF – I am planning to read through this one in 2015. I’ve read excerpts here and there. It’s a compilation of writings by biblical counselors who seek to connect God’s Word to the heart.

Topical devotionals –

  • For moms – best one is Jen Hatmaker’s Out of the Spin Cycle. Witty, encouraging, practical, and short. Blessedly short.
  • For counselors/pastors/other helping professionals – In Our Lives First by Diane Langberg. Soul-refreshment that helps carry you in the burdens and dangers of  being on the “front lines” of caring for others.

Yearly Bible reading plans –

  1. A reading from Old Testament, New Testament, and Poetry for each day (you print out the three bookmarks for each section of your Bible – PDF here.)
  2. Chronological Bible Reading Plan – read the Bible in the order in which it was written. I did this last year with my friend Kiran. We both said the downside of this plan is that you don’t reach the New Testament until October though!!
  3. Read Me Bible Plan – similar to #1 above, but without the Poetry section.
  4. Customizable plan here – choose whether to do chronological, historical, or another assortment, and select whether to start on the 1st or the 15th of the month.
  5. 5x5x5 plan – 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week, with 5 suggested questions. It takes you through the entire New Testament in a year. I think I’m going to go through this plan for 2015 since I tend to fall behind a traditional (long) reading plan fairly quickly, and then the perfectionist/performance-oriented part of me feels guilty. When the main point is to spend time reading the Bible regularly so that I can soak in God’s love for me and be equipped to pour out his love to others. If a plan helps you do this, great! If not, find something else. I offer these merely as suggestions and guides.

*note: some affiliate links included (for the books – if you click on them and order them through Amazon, I’ll get a very, very small percentage of your order from Amazon)

mentoring lessons from Beverlee

It’s been over four years since I last met with Beverlee in her living room over a cup of steaming Lady Grey tea and chatted about life, ministry, and relationships. She invested in me, a just-one-year-into-marriage new seminary graduate beginning to counsel and serve on staff with a church plant, from her place as an older woman with decades of experience in ministry including overseas missions and full-time campus ministry. She was not strong but weak during those two years that we met weekly. We did not know it, but she might have: those were the last two years of her life and she suffered from complications of diabetes that often robbed her of sleep and forced her to be homebound. Yet she taught me more about mentoring/discipleship/gospel-centered friendship than almost anyone else in my adult life so far. Her legacy of gracious, selfless love and care for others even in the midst of her own pain lives on while she lives in Glory. And so I hope to continue that legacy by sharing with you some of what she taught me.

  1. Gospel mentoring flows out of weakness, not strength. She was physically weak for most of the two years that we met together. She easily could have complained and focused on her own pain and ailments, seeking my comfort and prayers. I certainly did pray for this dear woman and seek to comfort her, but it was not because of her complaints. The pain was written on her face, and yet she repeatedly asked me how I was doing; what she could be praying about; and entered into what seemed like my petty struggles (in comparison) of a new counselor and wife seeking to find my way in marriage and ministry.
  2. Offer what you have. She could not leave her house, but she reached out to me through phone calls; invited me weekly to come for tea to chat and pray; followed up in tracking me down in my busy, cluttered life of overcommitment. When I first began mentoring/discipling younger women, I was a college student with more free time than I realized. I met with a small group of younger women weekly for 1-2 hours of Bible study and prayer, and then sought to meet individually with each woman weekly outside of that time. After graduating from college, I volunteered with a campus ministry and discipleship/mentoring took a very similar shape then, too. Fast forward 10+ years, and my life as a pastor’s wife, mom to twin preschoolers, and part-time counselor does not allow me to devote the same kind of time to mentoring. Yet it is freeing to remember that mentoring involves offering what I have. And what I have is much less than before – but I still have something to offer. Meetings now take place in the evenings, during naptimes, or on weekends. Sometimes they include meeting somewhere where my kids can play. If I meet with a younger woman even once a month, that’s my “regular” during this season of my life.
  3. Mentoring begins with prayer. She prayed for me when I wasn’t with her, and we prayed together when we met weekly. She followed up about what she was praying for, and there was no secret to the source of the power she depended on herself. Only Jesus sustained her during her most painful days and nights.
  4. Mentoring at its simplest is being intentional to care for another. She initiated getting to know me when I first came on staff with the church plant she helped to start, and she intentionally “took me under her wings,” so to speak. She would call me if we hadn’t seen each other for awhile, and she invited me to meet regularly for the soul respite I so desperately needed.
  5. Gentle challenge embedded in love is an essential part of mentoring. When I had a petty complaint about marriage, she gently challenged me to love. She gave examples from her own life about love as thinking of your spouse often during the day, and then telling him about things that brought him to mind. She shared everything with her beloved Collier, as he did with her. And she encouraged me to do the same – speaking words of reproof into my life as needed.

Do I follow Beverlee’s example perfectly? Far from it. And she herself would be the first to remind me, if she could, that she was not perfect herself. But the call of following Jesus in the ministry of mentoring is a call to lay down your life – as it is – for another. It’s a call to find the grace and strength needed in the midst of my weakness in the cross, not my false notions of self-sufficiency. It is to offer to another the Life I have found and to encourage her to seek Life from this source with me. Until the day when instead of seeing dimly we will, like Beverlee now, see face-to-face the Glory to which we witness. [1 Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”]

Identity lessons from “Angelina Ballerina”

I happen to be quite well-versed at kids’ cartoons these days.

I’m not generally a huge TV fan myself, but when it comes to needing 30 minutes to _________ [name sanity-restoring task here: clean, prep a meal, shower, take a phone call from your BFF/etc.], I am not above putting on some kids’ TV which almost perfectly guarantees freedom from interruptions. Today the girls were watching one of their favorites, “Angelina Ballerina.” I love this show. The characters talk in British accents, families are portrayed in a favorable light and the kids actually seem fairly respectful and kind to one another. Plus there’s ballet dancing, and becoming a professional ballerina is a secret dream of mine (that I’ll never realize since I get dizzy when attempting to pirouette). 

I overheard an episode today that connected with this morning’s discussion of the book of Colossians. One friend summarized the main message of this book as: “Who you are in Christ, and how to live according to who you are.” In a word, identity. A favorite topic of mine as one who can easily forget who God’s created me to be, and/or doubts the identity that’s already been given to me and so tries to prove myself through 1000 exhausting enterprises. (“Like blogging daily?” you, my kind reader, suggest. “Well, yes, now that you mention it.” But enough about me – on to Angelina …)

Enter Angelina. It’s her first day at an elite dancing school, and she’s becoming insecure about dancing ballet when she observes her friends doing Irish dancing, jazz, and other modern dance. In a last minute practice, she asks her friend to accompany her by playing any music other than classical. This practice session ends with Angelina in tears, and her accompanist frustrated as he shifts from one musical style to the next to try to keep up with her dancing. Angelina is the next one up after lunch, and the audience feels her despair as she cries.

Enter mom to the rescue. Her mom shows up unexpectedly, asks Angelina why she’s been crying, and reassures her of who she is: a great ballet dancer. She encourages Angelina to be who she is, not try to become someone different to impress her new friends. She’s a ballerina, and she dances best to classical music. This also in fact makes her unique. Being different isn’t any cause for alarm or change, but it’s reason to celebrate her distinct identity. 

We then see Angelina move confidently to the stage and request “a classical piece, please,” to her relieved accompanist. She dances beautifully as she stays true to who she was created to be. A pleasant result is that the other dancers also admire her style, and Angelina walks off the stage smiling.

A few observations about identity come to mind:

1. We get confused when we compare ourselves to others, becoming either prideful if we seem to be “better than” and despairing if we feel we are “less than.”

2. We need others to remind us of who we and that who we are is beautiful and unique.  Do you have friends, family, co-workers, neighbors like this? And when’s the last time you reminded someone else of his or her God-given identity? Do you as a Christian remember who you are? Spend some time soaking up the first few chapters of Ephesians or Colossians for a crash course in your identity in Christ.

3. Being who we are will bring joy and confidence. Living according to who we are means we say “yes” to some things and “no” to others; that we live out of who God’s made us and not who we think we should be. As a mom, the book Desperate has been amazingly helpful to remind me of this in terms of living as who I am as a mom v. “the ideal mom” I have in my head.

 

why “hidden glory”?

I’ve been thinking about why I have the blog title that I do – “hidden glory” seems obscure, not very focused or necessarily clear in what it’s about. Yet it fits my purpose for blogging. Writing for me is a way of seeking meaning out of what can be confusing about life; writing is part of my quest to find the glory that is hidden all around us. So at times that means I’m writing about parenting; other times it’s a book review; or a counseling topic; or my meditations on a passage of the Bible; or reflections about my own life; or just observations in general. In all of these, I am inherently seeking the Truth and the Light {coincidentally what my daughters’ names mean} that I believe can and will be found there.

Our lives are tragically flawed yet beautifully redeemed. That’s my hope; that’s a summary of the glory hidden where all who seek may find.

I’m reposting my very first blog post from September 13, 2005, about my title:

Hmm…my first post. There’s a lot of pressure…so I’m just going to start with the quote that inspired the blog title.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” ~the apostle Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians

We are glorious beings. Yet the glory is hidden. Beneath sin, failings, and simply the frailty that comes with being human.

I desire to explore this strangely beautiful dichotomy in which we are appointed as image bearers of hidden glory. And to invite others into this journey with me.

humbled and grateful

I am humbled to hear of many of you who were touched by yesterday’s post. I am grateful that my words could be used to minister some brief comfort to you, however small it may have seemed against the background of the vast ocean of grief and pain you felt yesterday. Thank you for the privilege of being part of that, even though we may never meet face to face.

Today begins my church’s week-long summer camp with a twist. It’s not simply the traditional “Vacation Bible School,” but its heart and focus is to provide a high-quality sports and art camp for those who may not typically have access to such a camp due to their socio-economic limitations. And so we come to an inner city housing development in our community and bring this camp to them, while inviting their preschoolers and kindergarteners to attend “Camp Jr.” (more VBS-like) at our church for ages 3-5. I’ll admit that there was some dread this morning and the question of, “Will this be worth it?” as I herded my screaming toddlers (who wanted to dress themselves but we didn’t have time) out the door so that they could attend their class and I could help with the 4 and 5-year-old class.

It was more than worth it. Really delightful to be with this group of 9 children, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week. I think my daughters had fun, too, judging from their big grins when I went to get them at noon.

Yet ultimately the question of, “Is this worth it?” isn’t answered by my enjoyment of it but by the fact that as a believer in Jesus Christ, this is part of what I’m made for and the calling he’s given his people to care for the poor and needy and young and messy. Because all of those qualifiers describe me as well, and I have a good strong God who has entered my life and my story with his love. I can’t help but do the same for others.

Psalm 113:7-8 in one of many verses that speak of this story, that is my story:

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.

Thankful Thursday

It’s been a long day. So I’m going to the archives for this one – the archives of the gratitude journal I started at a friend’s encouragement after we read One Thousand Gifts together. I love some Ann Voskamp. My heart so easily forgets my blessings and begins complaining and criticizing. Counting the many graces showered upon me reminds me that our God is good and faithful. Versus my complaining that short-circuits my view of deep mercy. Listen along as I recount a few of the 543 I’ve got so far (I’m slow – it’s taken me 20 months to get this many).

1. New pages in a journal

13. Big baby grins for: mommy, daddy’s arrival home, and bananas

14. Baby laughter

15. Fall evening drive – alone

16. Sunroof open to starry night sky on Hwy. 301

20. Awaking slowly, quietly, unhurriedly

23. Magnificent Chicago – a city whose welcome felt so familiar

24. Shared laughter and joy made richer by the years spent apart

25. Faith through tears and sorrow and grief

28. Laughing so hard your face hurts

33. Wiggly girl turned still with wide-eyed wonder at twilight

40. A community of women with whom to study God’s Word

41. A shepherd who cares for me, his sheep, promising goodness and mercy even through hard days

 

When you regret yesterday

I should have known that beginning the day with a blog post entitled “Waiting for perfect,” would have been a sure-fire guarantee that the day ahead would give me challenges to that effect. And it did. I got frustrated with my kids because of trying to focus on adult conversations with friends who came over. They, in turn, responded to my frustration and lack of attention with (predictably for 2-year-olds) more acting out and clamoring/clingy behavior. Which frustrated me more, and I pushed them away, and then was so very glad to be leaving the house at 7pm for a meeting.

But this morning I feel it. That lingering sense of regret and guilt over yesterday. I awoke feeling a vague burden, nameless but very present. Then I reached for today’s devotional reading from a wonderful book (Grace Through the Ages) written by a good friend, former colleague/professor/counseling supervisor, Bill Smith. It met me exactly where I am, reminding me of truth and grace. Which is what my heart needed today, and what I will never outgrow my need for as long as I live.

Each time you sin against an infinite being you incur an infinite debt. How many lifetimes would you need to pay off just one sin? Little wonder people find so many ways to distract their minds and harden their consciences. Who could live with the enormity of that crushing debt?

Hence the psalmist’s conclusion [in Psalm 32] that you are blessed when God chooses to cancel what you ow (Psalm 32:1-2). You are so blessed that, despite the troubles of life that come even to God’s people (Psalm 32:7), you have more than enough cause to trust this God (Psalm 32:10), to run to him (Psalm 32:7) and to rejoice (Psalm 32:11).

Spring hope and restoration

Restoration. I often feel like spring is a picture of restoration as the world’s life seems to be restored after the (apparent) barrenness of winter. With someone who is definitely affected by the dark, cold days of winter, I often feel like my heart awakens with spring every year. I love warmth and sunshine. This year’s long-in-coming-spring felt trying for me. But it came. And in that there is a hint of the Future Restoration all of creation is waiting for (whether they realize it or not). 

A few weeks ago, I taught from 2 Kings 8:1-6 about a widow whose land is restored, and the way this seemingly obscure story is included in the Bible to speak to us of a much greater hope of restoration.

8 Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God. She went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years. And at the end of the seven years, when the woman returned from the land of the Philistines, she went to appeal to the king for her house and her land. Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.” And while he was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and her land. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, “Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.”

Parts of my talk are included below – praying you will be encouraged by the hope of restoration wherever you feel the longing for it most today.

Have you ever lost something very precious to you? Maybe not valuable in terms of price but irreplaceable because of what it was. While visiting my parents in South Carolina over Christmas, I lost the pearl ring my parents gave me for my 30th birthday. I didn’t realize I had lost it until we arrived back in Norfolk. I just assumed I had already packed it some place really “special” but couldn’t find it when unpacking. I searched through all of the usual places, multiple times. I called and asked my mom to look for it, which I assumed would be like looking for a needle in a haystack since it could have been anywhere. And it didn’t show up for weeks. I considered it gone forever. Imagine my relief and joy when I pulled on a pair of pants to find it comfortably lodged deep in the pocket. I felt like I had received it back again! Isn’t that what makes restoration almost better than the original gift? You had counted it as lost, and then it’s restored. Webster’s defines the verb “restore” as

Verb

  1. Bring back; reinstate.
  2. Return (someone or something) to a former condition, place, or position.
Synonyms

return – give back – renovate – renew – rehabilitate

This is a small, trivial example of something lost that’s been restored. What do you find yourself longing to be restored today? Maybe it’s the weight of relationships that are broken and feel lost forever – maybe with a parent, or a child, or a spouse, or a friend. Or maybe you are in the process of losing a home or a job due to financial stress, unemployment, or your new orders. Perhaps you are losing an entire way of life as you anticipate a major change on the horizon – whether it be a joyful change like marriage or having children, or bittersweet such as retirement or kids leaving for school or college. Maybe you find yourself in a much darker place than anything I’ve mentioned yet as you deal with the loss of someone close to you through death, or the loss of hope through miscarriage or infertility, or the lingering loss of childhood or innocence because of past abuse. And in all of these losses, what often accompanies them is a loss of faith or trust in God and his goodness. Is God going to come through for you when you feel like you’ve lost everything that matters to you – or if not everything, the one thing or person that mattered the most? Is restoration even possible?

Our story today says yes as it highlights God as the one who provides and the one who restores. As we think about it together, we’re going to look at God’s provision and restoration from three perspectives: 

(1) God’s restoration for the Shunammite woman

In 2 Kings 8:1-6, we see a woman who experiences God’s provision and abundant restoration in her life. First, we need to do a little background on her life to remember her remarkable history. In 2 Kings 4:1-37, we are introduced to this woman who is wealthy and hospitable, building a room for Elisha to stay in when he passes through their town. She’s the woman who was given a son by God in repayment for her kindness after years of apparent infertility. And she’s the woman who loses her son unexpectedly at a young age to death, and then seeks Elisha’s help when he dies. What happens next is one of the greatest miracles in the Bible. She receives her son back when Elisha restores his life to him in a resurrection miracle. All of this happens before this chapter of her story begins.

It opens with bleak circumstances and yet we see the first evidence of God’s care for her: God’s provision of a warning. Israel is going to be hit with a seven-year famine (no small thing for an agrarian society), presumably as part of God’s desire to wake them up from their idolatry. This woman will be spared because she is given a warning by Elisha of what’s coming. We see her faith in her response described in verse 2, “So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God.” What she left behind was no small thing. We know that she was wealthy and that she was comfortably settled, and she leaves all of this behind to go live in the land of the Philistines (enemies of Israel). This would not have been a comfortable place to live by any stretch of the imagination.

Perhaps it helped that she knew it would only be seven years, for we see her journeying back after seven years. Her land and her home are now gone, and she must appeal to the king for it. What we see now is a second aspect of God’s care for her in his provision of perfect timing. As she enters the king’s court, the king “just happened” to be asking Gehazi (Elisha’s servant) to tell him about Elisha’s miracles. And Gehazi “just happened” to be telling him about the resurrection miracle when the woman herself walks into the king’s presence and Gehazi announces her, “…here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” The king is intrigued and asked the woman herself to recount the story. He is duly impressed, and as a result, appoints an official with the instructions, “Restore all that was hers…” and not only that, but also “all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.” This is abundant provision, over and above what she requested or expected.

What we see through this short narrative is a God who provides and who restores, caring for the needs of one individual woman and her family. Do you wonder why this particular story of this particular woman is included in the Bible for us? I find great comfort in the reminder that our God is a God who is in the business of restoration. And that our God goes about restoration one individual at a time. He is not only the God of global restoration of all things, but He is also the God who is in the business of restoring individual lives.

(2) God’s message of restoration for Israel

The original audience, Israel, were also sojourners like this woman, sojourners not by choice but by captivity. They must have wondered whether they would have homes and land to return to one day. Imagine what great comfort they would find through this story! For them, the sermon would have been something like the following:

  1. You will be restored to your land after exile – there is an end in sight
  2. God notices, cares, and orchestrates details to make his will come to pass for his people
  3. Do according to God’s word like the Shunammite woman and God will provide and restore

(3) God’s promise of restoration to His people today

Those points are certainly not irrelevant for us today, who also live as spiritual exiles who are not home. If we think of the big picture of the story of what God is doing in history, we also are ones who have had a home that we left (the Garden of Eden). We are now in captivity to sin, to futility in our work and to pain in child bearing/raising. We are awaiting restoration of all creation and a perfect home with God who will make all things new. But we have even more hope as we wait than the Israelites did because we can now look back to Jesus Christ. Just as the woman’s restoration of her land hinged on the son restored to life, so does our restoration depend on the Son restored to life.

During Easter we particularly contemplate Jesus’ death more than any other time in the calendar year, and we also celebrate Jesus’ resurrection life as the high point of the church calendar. It is the highlight of Redemption – of God’s global Restoration story. For in Jesus restored to life, we all have hope that we ourselves will also be restored to life after death and that even now our hearts are restored from sin’s captivity. Jesus came to begin the process of returning all things to their former/rightful condition, place, and position. With his death and resurrection life, He promises to bring back and reinstate all those who believe in him to a place of unbroken relationship with their Creator. The ripple effects of such a restoration are to be seen and experienced most vividly in our restored relationships with one another and in our joint restoration efforts to restore cities, communities, all of creation to its intended glorious state.

What could this really look like for you and for me as we face the death of friends, financial difficulties, life stress, overbooked schedules, health problems, broken relationships?

God agrees that your life and this world is broken, it is far from his original intent and the glory it was created to display. Don’t let the brokenness keep you from seeing the perfection of the God who created it all to be good, and who is on a global renovation/restoration plan to make it so again.

Don’t let the weight of your sin keep you from experiencing the restoration of grace and forgiveness guaranteed by Jesus Christ.

Remember who we were created to be and what the world was created to display, and mourn how far we have all fallen. But dare to hope and pray and work with the God who is in the business of restoration. 

When you break Lent (and it breaks you)

Lent.

The period of 40 weekdays that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.

I chose what I thought would be four hard but do-able items for my Lenten fast this year. Call me an overachiever, or more accurately, an over-estimator of my own strength. A month ago I posted about my hopes for Lent. How hard could it really be? And how refreshing and empowering could it be! In taking away many of my heart’s distractions – phone apps, Target, sweets, t.v. – I assumed that God would replace my heart’s misplaced affections with a renewed love for Christ and the people around me.

About three weeks in, I broke Lent. Fully and completely. Not just one day, but I think it was about every day of the week and I broke every single “fast” multiple times. I rationalized why for each of them.

  • Going to Target will help me stick to our family budget on some key grocery items like Kashi cereal and goldfish.
  • “Non-essential” phone app category expanded dramatically. I started Lent with 6 icons on my home screen that I deemed “non-essential.” I’m ending Lent with twice as many.
  • Television is the only way that my husband and I can really share down time together after busy days in the midst of a busy week
  • I really just “need” a quick pick-me-up. Nothing like a bite of chocolate to do that.

My response to breaking Lent? First, my typical pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps approach: “Just try harder, Heather. Get it together. You can do it!” As this failed, I descended to self-blame, punishment, guilt and shame. “This is really not that hard. There are millions of people in the world who LIVE without these things daily, and you can’t just go without for 40 days?? What is wrong with YOU?” That also got me nowhere fast.

And then I realized that maybe this is the real purpose of Lent. To reveal (again) that I cannot fulfill the Law. Any law – of God’s eternally perfect law, other people’s expectations, or my own standards. Maybe Lent is meant to show me how little I can do in my own strength, and therefore how MUCH I need Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter. Truth echoed in these verses from Romans 3:19-20 –

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Breaking Lent is one way that the law breaks me. It’s a beautiful breaking, for it leads me to the One who restores and makes new. If I didn’t practice a Lenten fast this year, I would be that much less aware of my helplessness to gain eternal life and a relationship with God on my own strength or efforts. And so, in an upside-down backwards way, breaking Lent has broken me of trying and pointed me in desperate hope to Jesus whose death we remember this week and whose life we celebrate next Sunday. Listen to this hope found in Romans 5:6 and 21 –

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. … so that … grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we round the final corner of Lent, walking into Holy Week’s somber reflections, let us remember that we cannot earn Easter on our own merit. Our best trying leaves us hopeless. Let us fall in our weariness and allow Jesus to pick us up and bring us with Him to the cross and then the hope of the empty tomb this week and always.