40 days update

At the beginning of Lent, I posted about the decision to give something up or not. In the end, in large part thanks to the helpful comments, I went with giving 40 minutes to God per day.

And how has that worked out? Well, if asked me this morning, I would have said it’s worked out miserably. Once again, I didn’t stick to it. In fact, I don’t think there’s a deliberate 40 minutes anywhere in there in the last weeks. Maybe 15 minutes. Once.

But, this afternoon, I’m actually feeling pretty good about the whole thing. I had an appointment with my spiritual director (best money spent out of my expense account!), and came with the following thoughts and questions:

  • Does it count as giving time to God if it’s good for me? By which I mean, if it’s really about my being a better person spiritually, does it really count as time simply spent being close to the heart of God?
  • Does it count if I’m on the treadmill, because I ran/walked a really tough 40 minutes yesterday while listening to sermons on my iPod (minister-nerd alert!). And that felt spiritual. But really?
  • Does it count if I’m relaxing in the sauna after said long run, especially if the relaxing time goes from 20 minutes to nearly an hour, while Erik’s at home manning the baby and I should really maybe be doing dishes or, perhaps, getting something from my ever burgeoning-to-do list at work done?
  • Maybe what I’m really asking is this: does it count if it’s self-care? (In fact, about the time Lent started, in a totally unrelated move, I took the drastic step of signing on for the country’s most popular weight loss “club”. This had less to do with God than with the fact that my pants don’t fit. So, I’m eating better, exercising, and then I’ve been on a novel reading mission, which I think is very good for my soul.)

Do you see the pattern here? Yep, someone is focussed on what “counts”.

Here’s the thing: notice, from the previous post about this, that the whole issue of what to do during lent was precipitated by a parishoner asking what I planned to give up.

When you’re a minister, your spiritual health is part of the job description. You just can’t be a good minister unless you are spiritually engaged. Maybe you can be good for a little while, but then you’ll burn out. Ministry is incarnational. You are a living, breathing human being, and what you do and say, how you are, and how you are with God, is your congregation’s business. Your 7th graders are allowed to ask you questions like: “What are you giving up for Lent?” Not just out of curiosity, but because they get to wrap their little hands around your spiritual life and check it out for themselves. I know that sounds invasive, but I’m OK with that.

My whole thing about what “counts” probably comes from a few places:

  • an ongoing discussion when I was in seminary about whether or not time spent preparing a sermon was “personal time spent in the Word” and other similar discussions about how much we needed to do to be healthy ministers
  • evangelical influences that push robust personal devotional lives, but sometimes make it so formulaic that it can’t possibly work for everyone (an hour a day with your Bible; 20 minutes of prayer every night; a certain amount that is enough)
  • the tendency of so many spiritual discipline models to come from people (monks, middle-aged men with really competent house-keeping wives, young single people, older people who have more time on their hands) who are not mothers of 18 month olds (honestly, devoted time is pretty tough…I couldn’t even eat my lunch at the table today because Zora needed me to sit on the floor in her room and eat there while she sat in rocker and read a book…as if she’d allow me to take 40 minutes alone in a chair in the corner…I’d probably be asked to stand on my head while she ran circles around me). Then again, I’ll probably get comments about how everybody, in all sorts of walks of life, are really busy. I know. You’re right.
  • Some strange protestant work ethic thing bleeding over into spirituality…if I do enough, if I do more, if I do it right…
  • My questioning where the boundaries are between my “work” and my spiritual life…for example, if I would pray for 30 minutes, does that count as personal time, or work time? Probably depends on who you ask.

But notice something else…I may not be pulling off my “40 minutes for God” commitment. However, it has me doing some pretty serious thinking, and asking good questions. So, if Lent is a time for reflection and self-examination, looks like I’ve managed to do some of that.

And, I do seem to be having quite a few moments with God present, little sabbaths that are much shorter than 40 minutes, but sabbaths none the less. My spiritual director had this idea: I need to name these times, maybe even write them down, and think about how to acknowledge them in the moment. I’m thinking I need some sort of every-day prayer of invocation, so that when one starts to happen, I can say that little prayer to name it as a sabbath and to acknowledge the presence of God.

In the spirit of not “counting” everything then, here are a few little sabbaths from the past couple days, no times noted:

  • Sitting up front in church and seeing some of my youth group kids hanging out in the narthex, and instead of worrying about when someone was going to ask me “why aren’t the kids on church?” I felt this very deep, transcendent warmth of love for these kids.
  • Zora running to the door saying “mama mama mama” when I come home.
  • That good time on the treadmill with a few good sermons.
  • Feeling completely relaxed and sufficiently closed off from the business of life that my mind could think about important things while I was in the sauna.
  • Not as pleasant, but the feeling of being someone who could comfort and do the things that needed to be done when Zora had a stomach bug, knowing she just took it for granted and trusted that we would take care of her, even if it was one of the more disgusting tasks of parenthood.

I need to accept these moments as the places of Sabbath, where I’m at, rather than trying to create something that won’t work for me. And if that’s the only grace I can take away from this Lent, then I think things are going pretty well.

One Response to “40 days update”

  1. Heidi Says:

    Loving this post.

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