Though it is not part of our particular church's tradition, I usually choose something to do for Lent. Sometimes this means something to give up: Meat, sweets, coffee, some form of media, or the like. A compelling thing I have done more than once, and which I almost always do during Advent, is to give up all non-necessary shopping, i.e. ceasing to even browse for anything other than food at the grocery store, unless a kid has some unforeseen need (such as, I need a sports jersey, before tomorrow's practice!). This is a good discipline for me, and reminds me that my hopes and needs are truly not satisfied by material things, and that I truly can live without the distraction and stimulus and, let's say it, small thrill, of getting new stuff. Funny how that comes as a surprising revelation every time!
An important thing I have learned is not to take on an "external" discipline for Lent. Not to simply copy what someone else is doing, whether the practice is dictated by centuries-old tradition, mandated from the pulpit, or is something I heard or read about. Such disciplines tend to be doomed to fail. Instead I've learned to simply ask the Lord: What should I give up, or what should I do, in order to reflect on your suffering and death, and prepare my heart to receive your Good Friday sacrifice? What is it in my life right now that's in the way, that holds me back from understanding your love and grace? For several years now, he has given me an answer. Something clear and true and personal. Something that fits for me. And because it is clear and true and personal, and because He is the one asking it, I am given the grace to complete the discipline.
This year I felt that rather than give something up, I was supposed to do some kind of guided journaling discipline, which would include both writing in a journal but also visual or art journaling. The issue is, I have been so very, very busy since taking on a part time job over a year ago, that most of the time, I function in a way that is pretty disconnected from the heart. I'm often harsh and rude to my family, simply because I am tired and it feels like there is always more to be done. Annoying things, that I totally don't enjoy, like cleaning or grocery shopping. Okay, then: A sacrifice of time. When your life is stuffed with kids and their sports and a job and ministry and groceries and laundry and dirty house and oh yeah, gotta exercise, and oh yeah, somehow forging the time to edit and finish a book, and so on, "stealing" time to write in a journal or be creative feels selfish in practice. But this is the Lord asking me. It actually is not a good thing when I operate in purely "task mode", when I just function and do and don't take the time to stop and think about it all. I become a person that even I don't like to be with. So I explored various resources and eventually came up with a list of books I am using--some one day, some another--to challenge me to reflect and respond. Here is my list:
A Bible reading plan: "Lent for everyone", created by N. T. Wright, which goes through each chapter of Matthew together with Wright's comments and reflection. So far it is excellent. I use this Bible App which gives me a portion to read each day and I love it--I've done way better with Bible reading since I started to use it and the various Bible reading plans a few years ago.
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter contains excellent, very short yet very deep selections from various authors. I used it last year as well.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker Palmer.
The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. I did this one years ago, but felt led to go through it again. What an excellent, excellent book it is!
And of course, a blank journal, drawing pencils and waterproof black drawing pens, and colored pencils. A magic rub eraser and a good sharpener (need to buy one) are essential. For paints I have a hotch-potch of different kinds collected over the years. The M. Graham watercolors and acrylics are amazingly good and cost a fortune, but Prang serves well in a pinch.
Confession time: I'm managing to do the reading and a page or so in my journal, but art takes longer. However, something about drawing goes deeper for me than writing, and I know it. It's scary and it's threatening and it's easy for me to avoid, but occasionally, I need to take an hour or two on a weekend or a non-busy evening to do it. When will that happen--Sundays maybe? My sister and I grew up drawing, drawing, drawing all the time. In high school, I had the ambition to seriously learn to paint, but then scary, dark things would come out of me, and I dropped it like a hot potato. Now I get pictures and ideas of things I would like to draw or paint but I lack the practice and skill, and I'm quickly frustrated. Not to mention intimidated by that clean blank piece of paper.
So I remind myself that this journaling idea is really only between me and the Lord, it is not about creating a masterpiece. And if he is the one pointing the way up a trail, it is for me to take a deep breath and follow. And that taking the time to do these things really isn't selfish.
I'll end with a quote from this morning's reading by Parker Palmer: "Self-care is not a selfish act--it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others."
Whatever that gift is in me, it's been mostly shoved away and ignored, for a really, really long time. There have been some good reasons for that. There was some scary dark stuff inside, but with counseling and EMDR, I'm facing that down and walking through. Things are starting to feel pretty different on the inside. And that's good--because in the end, what I would like to create with my life is grace and light.