Tag: discipline

The Discomfort of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, and as evidenced by my “Spring it Up” post on Monday, I’d really prefer to focus on the positive than face my sin and Jesus’ sacrifice.

I’ve shared before and before that I’m pretty much a failure at Lent. Like John says, I’m more of a Christmas than Easter girl. Could we skip over the Lent chapter please?  But there’s no rebirth without death, no salvation without facing my sin, so I continue to try to enter in, to talk to God. This is a repost from a few years ago…

As I mentioned the other day, we’re on vacation in Florida and the other morning we decided to attend an Ash Wednesday service at a lovely little Episcopal Chapel near where we’re staying.

I was on high alert from the moment we entered because I’m not Episcopalian and I was sure I was going to mess up and kneel at the wrong time, or not know the secret handshake that would get me communion, or ask forgiveness for my “debts” instead of my “trespasses”.

I took my cues from a girl across the aisle who clearly knew the liturgical ropes, bowing to the Bible when it went by and making the sign of the cross on her forehead, lips, and heart.  I was fascinated.

Like I said, I’m not Episcopalian and I’m not Catholic either, but by turns throughout my life I have been disdainful towards, curious about, and, in the past five years, enriched by many of  their practices.

When I was growing up all I knew was that the Catholic kids went to St. Petronille for church (named after a guy who must have been on the JV team of saints because I’ve never heard of him since and neither has my husband who did grow up Catholic).  They got to get out of school early on Wednesday to go to Catechism and got to eat fish on Friday.  We never had fish in my family.  So they were special and kind of mysterious to me.

On Wednesday, while I still struggled to own the words of liturgy in a way that was meaningful, I deeply appreciated the silence, the reverence, and the simplicity of a worship gathering full of Scripture.  These guys really do repentance big time!

Anyway, all this has got me thinking about Lent and the question many people ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?”

Confession:  As far as I can remember I’ve never given up anything for Lent.

It’s just not been a part of my spiritual tradition.  And frankly, when I have considered it I’ve always thought “Well I could give up Starbucks if I wanted to, but I don’t have to so I won’t.”  I am so not into sacrifice.  I realize this exposes one of the idols I daily pray to relinquish – the idol of comfort.  Ugh!

I know it’s easy to abuse this practice…make it a badge of honor, a “work of righteousness”, an end instead of a means.  But, I’ve been reading about it and I’m wondering if it might be a good spiritual practice for me, identifying with Jesus in some small way, this voluntary sacrifice stuff.  I’m cringing even as I write this.  I find myself thinking, “Could I pick something I like, but don’t like too much?  Kind of ease into this maybe?”

I want to know… What is experience with giving up something for Lent?  Does it help you to see your sin and become more like Jesus?

If you’re reading this on email or on your phone and want to comment, just click on the title and then scroll down!

Couple quotes on Lent…

“Lenten disciplines help us to abstain from the daily distractions that prevent us from seeing and naming reality correctly. As we allow some of the external trappings of our lives to be stripped away, we can return to a truer sense of ourselves and a deeper pursuit of God.” Ruth Haley Barton

“Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to ugly face with our enemy.  Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice.”  Ann Voskamp

 Check out another great article on Lent by Ruth Haley Barton here! 

3 Questions I’m Asking About Spiritual Disciplines

When Katy was about 5 years old she did something I thought deserved a “time out” so I told her to sit on the stairs. A few minutes later, I walked by and heard her mumbling something.

“What are you saying Katy?”

Scowling and with the most disgusted, put-upon tone she could muster she said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, later on however it produces a harvest of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it!”*

So if “discipline” is unpleasant,  “spiritual disciplines” will be something I hate…a necessary burden to make me more like Jesus, right?  But then I read Matthew 11:28-30:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

And then there’s Matthew 15:8-9 where Jesus says:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

A spiritual practice is not an end in itself – not something we do to get spiritual brownie points, but rather, training we choose, like training for a marathon, that bit by bit, stretches our spiritual muscles, draws us closer to God, and transforms us into people who are more like Him.

In Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook,** she writes, “The simple truth is that wanting to keep company with Jesus has a staying power that ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ seldom have.”

So, three questions I’m asking myself:

  1. Where is my desire and longing? Where am I least like Jesus, but long to be?
  2. How do I want or need to be with God? (For example, I am an extrovert, so the discipline of silence and solitude has been stretching, but so fruitful)
  3. What spiritual practices might the Holy Spirit be inviting me to step into? As I do, they may be hard, but do they foster love and intimacy with the Lord, or resentment? Is this something I am doing with Jesus, or something that is ill-fitting and legalistic?

The post on fasting seems to have hit a nerve!  Some of you identified with my struggle, and some of you thanked me for being authentic, but you guys are way too shy about sharing your wisdom, insights and encouragement that could benefit everyone!  So many of you respond directly to me instead of posting in the comments. I thought you’d like to see some valuable thoughts that folks sent me or posted on FB:

I trained like you would for a marathon. I started out fasting from sugar . . . the next time I added bread . . . meat . . . vegetables . . . fruits . . . juice . . . until I could just drink water. One day a week. These days I am working on fasting from all electronic devices one day a week!

My husband and I have been regularly fasting over many years. It is challenging yes, but the benefits so outweigh the discomfort, that we actually enjoy it, especially the 21 day fast Daniel fast we do at the beginning of the year. The awareness of God, how He strengthens and enables us to go through is amazing.  Starting can be difficult but when it becomes a part of your life, it’s much easier. Drawing closer to God in this way is worth it.
Fasting? You have come to the right person!
When I became Orthodox I knew right away this was not something I was going to like. We fast on Wednesdays and Fridays — Wednesdays because it was the day Christ was betrayed and Friday because that was the day Christ was crucified. It is all done to remember our Lord . These are not strict fasts– only no meat or dairy but that is bad enough for a little fat person who loves her ice cream, yogurt, cheese and COOKIES. However I’ve discovered that Oreos are legal!
 
Seriously, I have grown to look forward to the discipline especially of the 40 day fasts of Nativity and Lent. Still only no meat or dairy for those. The process has drawn me closer to my Lord and His sacrifice. Easy? No but so worthwhile and beneficial to my spiritual growth. Forgive me for sounding”preachy” but the whole experience has has been an eye- opener for me and among other things has taught me that I am never too old to learn new helps in my spiritual life.
 
Disclaimers also come with these fasts– do not make anyone else uncomfortable by fasting ( as if invited out or there is no other food available)  Thinking of someone else always comes first.
 *Hebrews 12:11 which we had memorized as a family.
** Highly recommend this book! In it there is a chapter on fasting.
Some posts on this blog contain Amazon affiliate links – I receive a tiny commission on any purchases you make from links, but I’m not paid to recommend any particular item. I’d never include a link to anything I didn’t own or feel great about endorsing.

The Busy Burden and Badge

When you ask a friend, “How you doing?” I bet I can guess the answer you hear 99% of the time. It’s a version of the same response I get.

“I’m too busy!”

Busy has become both a burden and a badge of honor. We are stressed, but we are secretly kind of relieved that we are soooo in demand. We are soooo important to the world. We’re kind of a big deal.

An acquaintance of mine who’s also one of my favorite authors has a new book out that’s been getting a lot of traction. The gist of it is basically:

I was too busy. I learned to say “no”. It helps to have a lake cabin to retreat to.

You’re too busy. Learn to say “no”. It helps to have a lake cabin to retreat to.

Many, especially young women around me, find this simple message tremendously freeing and validating. I’m all for it and I’m thrilled for any resource that helps us become more grounded and Jesus-centered, but what are we actually doing about it? We don’t have to live by default or as cosmic victims. We all have choices. As Craig Groeschel says,

“We all have time for what we choose to have time for.”

What about if we asked some of these questions about our choices:

  • What am I filling my life with? How much of it is vital to who I want to become and who is most important to me?
  • How attached am I to my phone, to social media? What is it replacing?
  • Am I spending more time invested in relationships with the characters on Homeland than the people in my own home?
  • What is the most important thing I’ve been distracted from doing?

Adele Calhoun, in her chapter on Rest in Invitations from God, writes about soft addictions. These are behaviors that sap time, money, and energy just like work. She sites the statistic that 91% of us have soft addictions. They are the ways we overuse good things: food, caffeine, exercise TV, Internet, texting, Facebook, work, and shopping.

My friend James preached recently and talked about this as the stuff that pollutes the springs of Living Water Jesus promises us, clogging our lives like milfoil.

“Filling our blank spaces with every addiction, reduces our capacity to give and receive love.” he says. At risk are family dinners, face-to-face date nights, devotions, prayer walks…

Some of the things that keep us from lives that are peace and joy-filled are comparison, perfectionism, fear, and shame. Ironically, these are things that are reinforced more and more through social media, 24/7 news cycles, t.v. and ads.

Evidence of too-busy-too-preocupied-to-be-present-disease is present everywhere. Phones are just one distracting urgent-over-important choice among many.

When I see parents with kids in tow, absorbed on their smartphones, oblivious to their children. I want to snatch the phone and say “DON’T DO IT!! I know it doesn’t seem like it, but your time with them is so fleeting! God has entrusted them to you. You have stewardship of these precious ones for 18 years. Make the most of it! Talk to them! Listen to them!”

But it’s not just parents. It’s 20-something singles (and 50-somethings…ahem), gripped by FOMO, who hold their smartphone through a meal like a security blanket.

I’m not in a stressful busy season of life. I have margin. But I’ve lived to experience the truth a mentor of mine shared with me when I was in my twenties. She said:

“Yes, it’s especially hard to prioritize in seasons when you have little kids, or high stress jobs with long hours. However, in some ways it doesn’t get easier no matter what season you’re in. You will ALWAYS be tempted by distractions, and the Evil One knows exactly what is most tempting to derail you. How you spend your time is always a choice, so work hard RIGHT NOW to put good practices in place.”

When we listen more to the Lover of our souls than the Liar, we find grace and acceptance just as we are.

Then we’ll hear:

“I’m cheering you on as you serve Hamburger Helper and leave the carpet un-vacuumed because I love it when you choose people over ‘perfection'”

“The world won’t end if a few emails go unanswered for 12 hours. I’m delighted that you chose to walk with Me and talk to Me tonight.”

“It’s ok if you don’t know what Donald Trump said today, you listened fully to your 2 year old’s excited rambling about something crucially important to him.”

“Way to go. A phone-free walk outside with a friend who shares your heart is better for your soul than scrolling FB feeds for a virtual community buzz.”

We’re in this together! Let’s encourage each other today as we try to choose what’s most important to our souls.

2014-08-09_10-24-11

After I finished writing this, I happened to listen to a great podcast by Craig Groeschel called “I choose Important over Urgent”. I highly recommend it if you want more on this subject!

 

Two Ways to Lean Into Your One Word

My friend Nancy has like the most awesome, toned arms of anyone I know.  And she’s my age which, let’s just say isn’t twenty-something.  When she is on stage sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on what she’s saying because I’m wondering what I’d have to do to get those well-sculpted arms in place of my soft, wobbly ones that cause me to shy away from anything sleeveless.

I know, it sounds a little whacky, but tell me you’ve never coveted a specific body part of someone else!  Anyway, stick with me here.

It’s not magic.  Nancy didn’t drift into arm amazingness. Just like people don’t drift into spiritual maturity.  Just like you and I aren’t going to drift into our One Word for 2015.

Change is a greedy, stubborn varmint.  He requires intention and attention if he’s gonna come through for us with sculpted arms, or growth in character.

I told you about my One Word fail last year, so I’m doing things a little differently this year with my One Word – STRONGER. Continue reading

Doing Easter Better

This weekend I had the privilege of guest posting on the Willow Creek Association blog.  If you’re a ministry leader you may want to check it out here, and take a look at their other resources!

As I write this it’s Easter morning.  Gray, and ugly as most Easters are in Minneapolis. At least it’s not snowing like it has many years.

It’s a little hard to exuberantly declare “He is risen!” when the depressing surroundings aren’t in sync with the joy of the resurrection.  Like Minneapolis didn’t get the memo to put on its Easter finery with bright spring tulips and sunshine and green grass.  Instead we’re still in the death shroud of dirty snow.

IMG_8588

We kiddingly say “Jesus may rise, but in Minneapolis He’s probably like the groundhog – tempted to go back in the grave for six more weeks and come out when the snow has finally melted.”  I know. We probably shouldn’t joke about something as sacred as the resurrection.  But it’s been a very long winter, so give us a little grace please.

Continue reading

When You See it and When You Don’t

Our daughter Maggie got engaged last weekend.

We exclaim, “Oh, yes!”  We can clearly see God’s faithfulness, His provision, His plan.  And we sing, like it’s New Year’s Eve, with confetti and streamers and hugs

Great is Thy faithfulness O God our Father.”

Two new babies were born to friends this week.  And we sing

“Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not.”

A delightful surprise package of gifts appeared on our back step.

Blessings all mine and ten thousand besides.”

A dear friend was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.  And it’s hard to see, but we try to sing

“Strength for today…”

The homeless guys still show up on our corner every day, and we have loved ones who are still prodigals, and others who are single, or childless and don’t want to be.  We want to sing a lovely future into their lives.

 “and bright hope for tomorrow.”

Israelis and Palestinians are killing each other.  Our voices waver a bit…

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth.”

Years ago we took the girls on a family vacation to Colorado.  They were little and excited.  It was the first time they would see the mountains.

But Maggie couldn’t.  She kept saying, “I.  Do.  Not.  See. Them!”

Continue reading

Life Without the Olympics

What are we going to do now that the Olympics are over?!  Watch Bachelorette reruns?  Complain about political ads?  Wonder what celebrity is heading for rehab?

The great thing about the Olympics is that it raises our eyes and gives us a vision above the mundane, above our lowest selves.  It inspires us with stories of courage and determination and high ideals.

I read this Monday morning in USA Today:

This was the Olympics in which the Queen said hello, and Michael Phelps said goodbye.  This was the Olympics where a man from South Africa ran with no legs and a woman from Poland played table tennis with one arm.  This was the Olympics that reminded us what it does best – nurturingevery dream. – Mike Lopresti

Continue reading

Out of Control and Canceling my Day

The other day I wanted to throw something.  Or have a pity party that would involve eating lots of Patticake (from YUM!) with Cookie Dough ice cream.

And I couldn’t figure out why!

Until the late afternoon when it hit me.  I was cranky because I felt out of control.

Can you relate?  Maybe just a little bit?

Continue reading

No Phone, Part 2

For the Summer of 7 Media Week we tried to fast from the thing we’re most attached to.  For me it was my phone.

Well, it’s over.  We’ve been off the grid to one degree or another and have discovered we’re not “all that”.

We don’t need to be accessible to everyone all the time and surprisingly the world is still spinning and no one we were responsible for died!   

The biggest loss for me was my iphone and every app that goes with it (read here).  Apparently I’m not alone in my attachment.  Look at the stats I read this week:

  • There are 7 billion people on Earth. 5.1 billion own a cell phone. 4.2 billion own a toothbrush. (Mobile Marketing Association Asia, 2011)
  • It takes 90 minutes for the average person to respond to an email. It takes 90 seconds for the average person to respond to a text message. (CTIA.org, 2011)
  • 1% of all smart phone users have their phone within arm’s reach 24/7 – (Morgan Stanley, 2012)
  • It takes 26 hours for the average person to report a lost wallet. It takes 68 minutes for them to report a lost phone(Unisys, 2012)

The benefits and drawbacks to technology and media were both intensified this week, but the biggest lesson for me is that I’m Media ADD –  totally undisciplined in this area. I need BOUNDARIES like Lindsay Lohan needs a better rehab program.

Confession:  I may be more responsive to my phone than I am to God.

There are no magic beans in this experiment.  In each area it’s going to take some conscious decisions about new habits and boundaries if we are going to move the dial even a millimeter.  Sooo… Help me out…

Do you have boundaries regarding media?  What are they?

For example, do you only check email or Facebook or Twitter at certain times of the day?  Put your phone away?  Or only use your phone for “necessary” stuff like calls and map quest?  Go without internet on the weekends?  Guard times of silence in your car or other places?

How to Run with the Unforced Rhythm of Grace

When I started this blog we instituted “Spirit Stretch Fridays” (thanks to daughter Maggie) with the idea that the post on Fridays would be about potential spiritual practices.  Thinking outside the box a bit.  I usually imagine most people are way down the road on this, but last fall I helped facilitate an online class for people in ministry called Soul Care.  At the end we took a poll and asked, “Before this class, did you regularly incorporate spiritual practices into your everyday life?”  Only 20% responded “Yes”.  And that was people in the ministry!  All that to say that recently I was asked to write an article on this topic for our church magazine and thought maybe it was worth posting here too. Sorry it’s a bit longer than usual.  

Our daughter Katy has been training to run a half-marathon.  This should really be illegal in our family because although we’re athletic, we don’t run.  It’s kind of been a rule of family solidarity.  She’s totally breaking it.

The biggest part of me is feeling proud and impressed, but a small corner of me also feels more inadequate than ever.  This is something I just don’t think I can do.  I’m not a RUNNER.  Or even a runner.

But Katy wasn’t either.  Til one day she tied up her shoes and put one foot in front of the other.  For two blocks.  And then a mile.  And then three….and then 13.1 miles.

And in the process she’s learned that to be a runner, you have to run.  You have to make it a part of your everyday life.

She learned that there are benefits to running by yourself, but it’s also helpful to have the company and accountability of others, so a couple of days a week she runs with a group of friends who are training for the same race and they tell each other their goals, and their successes and complain about sore muscles.  And that helps.

She’s found routes she really liked to run, and times of the day that were better than others.  And that helps too.

If, five months ago, someone had shown up on Katy’s doorstep and told her they had signed her up to run a marathon, she would have said “You’re crazy.”  She couldn’t achieve that by just trying.  She had to go into training.  No one drifts into becoming a marathoner.

And no one just drifts into spiritual maturity.  Enter the integrated life of training with Jesus.  Enter spiritual practices.

Twenty years ago I was a Christian.  I had a “quiet time” set aside during the day to pray and read my Bible, but that was about it.  Nice and neat and compartmentalized.         Boom. Done.

But then I read John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted and a whole new way of viewing my relationship with Jesus opened up to me.  Like someone discovering a runner’s high, I found that as I thought outside the box and integrated training practices into my everyday life, my relationship with Jesus deepened.

And everything “counted”.  Even little things made a difference.  Not just the dramatic “burning bush” experiences, and not just the half hour set aside for devotions, and not just the times I seemed to get it “right” for a second or two.  Every moment of the day became a chance to live more of the “with Jesus” life.

An ongoing conversation with God, or praying for strangers I encounter through the day seems to grow compassion a smidge in my selfish soul and make me aware of grace.

Journaling or looking back over my day, noticing the times when I turned towards and when I turned away from God is a spiritual habit that’s like looking in a mirror and noticing my hair needs combing or I have a smudge of mascara that needs a little cleanup.

And purposely getting in the longest line or slowest lane is a spiritual practice that I’m still hoping is forming patience in my hurried heart.

I pray that engaging in secret acts of service helps me let go of my need for approval from anyone other than God.

Celebration.  Rest.  Silence.  A life lived more like Jesus.  Step by tiny step.  I stumble a lot.

I am not a  natural runner.  And I’m not setting any speed records.  And my gait is a little awkward.  There are “ugly run” days.  But the race of faith is a marathon and I want to cross the finish line finally with the “unforced rhythm of grace.”  And that’s only going to happen if I tie my shoes and put one foot in front of the other today.

What’s your training experience been like?

© 2017 Laura Crosby

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑