Lent and Other Mysteries

Observing the Lenten season is new to me.  I think I had the impression that observing Lent was another wacky fringe ritual, like wearing sack cloth and walking down the street whacking yourself with some kind of stick.  Ok, maybe not quite like that, but I'm only recently starting to understand the deep meaning and joy of tradition generally and Lent specifically.  (I think this might be a sneaky flaw in our American individualism, but that is another post.)

Last year was my first Lent season "selective fast," and I gave up sweetener in all my beverages.  I decided to do the same thing this year, and I actually love it.  Not the coffee; black coffee equals yuck.  But every morning, I am reminded to pray anew when I drink that first sip and make a face at the bitterness.  You can get used to the taste, and even begin to not mind it so much, but the truth remains: like coffee without a little sugar, life without Jesus is black and bitter.  (Which is not to say Jesus is a condiment, of course.)

Lent, like the Advent season, is a period of waiting and contemplation.  As Christians, we try to remember that there was a time before Jesus, lest we take the unbelievable gift of salvation for granted.  We imagine a time when all we had were the promises of Scripture, but had not yet seen these promises fulfilled.  We use the spring as a symbol of the renewal of the soul that Jesus promises.  Lent, as my friend said, is about reorienting the soul.

I feel that waiting more than ever this year, and I really need some reorienting up in here.  Through most of January, I have been in such a low place emotionally.  I wrote about it here: how I was taking steps to pull myself out of my sad mood.  Definitely my proactive approach helped with the worst of of it (the sobbing, the oppressive fatigue, the obnoxious irritability), but I did not return to my sunny, resilient self.  I think the word "burnout" perfectly describes me right now.  The lights are on, but the person at home is trying to hide under the bed.

It's so disappointing.  I had enjoyed real freedom from my depression for months.  Now I think, what am I doing wrong?  Am I eating something I shouldn't?  Do I need to exercise/rest/pray/believe more?  Why can't I shake this heaviness?  Why can't I find joy in my life?  I am not living as if raising these unbelievably special children is a gift.  I am walking in weariness, acting as if the circumstances of my life are contriving to bear me into the ground.  Ridiculous.

But a strange thing happened.  Rather dimly, I realized that God had a specific plan in allowing me to linger in this gloom.  Oddly comforting, that was.  I thought to myself, what if I just use this time to read and pray, and just gather words and experiences into myself and see what happens?  So that's what I have been doing over the past month of blog silence - postponing all projects and change, and instead reading my Bible and other books written by mothers and Christians greater in wisdom than myself, and then letting it all sit.

Just after I had this realization and started reading, little signs began to overwhelm me and confirm what I thought I had heard.  My friend Heidi writes of Billboards. . .this was much like that.  Here are a few:

  • In a book I was reading, this quoted scripture leaped out at me: "Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid," (Matthew 14:27).

  • Posted by a woman in my online Hello Mornings group:  From Oswald Chambers: "[I]f there is darkness spiritually it is much more likely to be the shade of God's hand than darkness on account of sin; it may be the threshold of a new revelation coming through a big break in personal experience." (Emphasis mine.)

  • From Seasons of a Mother's Heart, Sally Clarkson's words: "What I needed was simply to obey God's word, and let His spirit change me through the circumstances."

  • I kept hearing the word "wait" in my mind, and then I read this scripture: "'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul.  Therefore I will hope in Him.  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."  (Lamentations 3:25-26) (Emphasis mine.)

And so I wait, trying to relax and hold my heart open.  Smiling and loving my children through the strange tightness around my heart.  Finding the comfort that can only come from the God of Ages, from a Being much larger and more complex than my small heart can fathom.

Lent.  It sounds strange to people who find religion, er, off-putting, but one of the beautiful things about following Jesus and learning more about him, is how not religious the relationship is.


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