when you break Lent (and it breaks you)

This is a post from three years ago, and it’s worth reposting. Because it’s just as true for me now as it was then. The only difference is that my Lenten fast is much smaller now – but it’s still more than what I can do on my own strength!

I offer this as an encouragement to look up and out to Jesus. He is our hope, and He is the whole point of Lent. It’s the journey to the cross.

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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.

Top 11 Favorite Books Read in 2015

Each year I catalog my favorite books read throughout the year. I try to write about them along the way in this space, and yet I inevitably read many more than you hear about – and sometimes I overlook my very favorites.

So I annually look back at the year past and record my favorite books read. For 2015 I give you not a countdown as in the past – a rating from #11 to #1 – but I’m giving you my top favorites in the five categories I read from most often.

#5 Parenting

No -Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel – This builds on his foundational teaching in Whole-Brain Child and makes it practical. Literally included are cartoons showing you as a parent how to implement his teaching on parenting. I would be lying if I told you that our home has transformed and there is never any drama ever – but this lays out a worthy goal to aim for, which has resulted in small changes. Like being emotionally more attuned to our daughters, even and especially in the midst of moments of discipline.

#4 Motivational

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – by Marie Kondo – Wow. Just wow. It has been magic in our home, and I have a long way to go before I’m at the place where I would say I’ve finished her method of home-organizing (a.k.a. “radical purging”). At least with Kondo, I have a map of what’s next and directions as to how to get there.

Rising Strong – by Brené Brown – Read my review here. I love Brown’s work, and her latest book continues in her trajectory of thought, inspiring action and courage – especially in the midst of so-called failures.

#3 Writing

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – I felt like I was on a writing retreat with Dillard as she described her process of writing candidly. Writing can be incredibly isolating, but somehow this book makes a writer feel less so as you nod your head in agreement at the inevitable highs and lows of the writing process.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit  by Brenda Ueland – If Dillard’s book felt like a companion, Ueland’s book became like the writing coach I’ve always wanted. She gives helpful pointers like how to find your voice, and how good writing is best done in the midst of real-life – not separate from it on the proverbial “mountain top.” A classic and a must-read for all my fellow writers out there!

#2 Fiction

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen – Quindlen’s fiction is poetic and her narrative is gripping. You’ll savor each page – pun intended.

 The Space Between Us by Thrity Umbrigar – A piercing piece that transports the reader to another culture and unexpected joys and tragedies of a close network of relationships.

 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Amazing. Page-turner – beautifully written. Worth the hype and the Pullitzer Prize 1000 times over.

#1 Spiritual/Devotional/Christian Non-Fiction

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with both our Hearts and Minds by Jen Wilkin – I call this gem of a book a condensed and highly accessible version of everything I learned in seminary about studying the Bible. Jen will feel like a friend and mentor as she takes you through her process of Bible study, making God’s Word come alive in new ways and coaching you through owning your Bible study for yourself.

A Loving Life by Paul Miller – Miller’s book met me with hope mixed with challenge, giving me the push and courage I needed to depend on Jesus’ life of love within me as I loved those around me. He uses the book of Ruth as a guide for looking at what it means to lay down your life in “one-way love” – a “one-way love” that is motivated and empowered by the ultimate “one-way love” of God for us in Jesus Christ.

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman – Freeman’s book is another favorite of hers. This book more than any others I read continues to reverbate through my soul, calling me to notice the sparkle of the ordinary and the gift found in sitting and being still. The result has been a deeper willingness to embrace the mundane and a more pervasive joy in even the “simply Tuesday” moments of my life.

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on my August bookshelf

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Three books, all very different from each other. I’ll start with the devotional I’ve been reading for the past several months, Grace through the Ages. Not only is this written by my former counseling supervisor and colleague, Bill Smith, whom I respect and have learned from immensely, but in his typical way, he seamlessly connects Scripture (all of it, Old and New Testament) to my day-to-day heart struggles, doubts, fears, and hopes. Every day that I pick this book up to read a one page devotional thought, I am met with a glimpse into God’s heart for me: his desire to be in relationship with his people and the great lengths to which he goes to bridge the gap of my sin and folly. Here are a few nuggets for you to savor.

On suffering: 

Suffering burns away self-deception by making us aware of what we turn to apart from Jesus to make our lives work.

On communication:

He [God] made you in his image and when you properly fill your role, you will talk to others about how to live in his world, in the same way he’s spoken about it to you.

On community: 

The same grace that embraces me also calls me to share my life with people who are dramatically different from me and to live with them in small groups of people that look remarkably like that first one 2000 years ago.

Second is Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. I’ve mentioned it on here previously, and it’s a dense book that will take some time to peruse. I was drawn to read it because I find myself both longing for quiet in a way I haven’t before (probably something to do with the constant noise involved in staying at home with twin toddlers), and I also find myself drawn to introversion as a way of re-energizing rather than big groups of people. I’m a mix of both, to be sure, but I am increasingly embracing my “inner nerd” whose ideal day would be spent in a quiet coffee shop reading a few really good books, and then writing about it. Thanks for providing me with an audience. 

The final book in my stack is along the lines of funny-parenting-real-memoir, Carry On, Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery. She is telling her story, and telling it in a brave, vulnerable way that invites me to do the same. And in a way that all of us can relate to. She begins by talking about what began this journey for her: opening up about her less-than-ideal past (that included addictions and jail) to a fellow mom while at a playdate on a playground. Now how’s that for inspiration to have different sorts of conversations the next time you gather with a friend? From her intro – an invitation to all of us –

The more I opened my heart to the folks in my circles, the more convinced I became that life is equal parts brutal and beautiful. And/Both. Life is brutiful. Like stars in a dark sky. Sharing life’s brutiful is what makes us feel less alone and afraid. The truth can’t be stuffed down with food or booze or exercise or work or cutting or shopping for long. Hiding from the truth causes its own unique pain, and it’s lonely pain. Life is hard — not because we’re doing it wrong, just because it’s hard. It’s okay to talk, write, paint, or cry about that. It helps.