Doing Lent in the Fast Lane

Lent 1

How to do Lent in the fast lane?

More to the point, how to do Lent when I’m catching myself running in circles?

This time of year is uber busy, fragmented and exhausting for Oklahoma House Members. How do I find time to pray more than Now I lay me and Bless us oh Lord?

What of the disciplines of fasting, alms and deep examination of conscience? Does all that go by the board when I’m stuck eating whatever is put in front of me and almost never get a moment alone?

I’m certain that I’m not the only person who finds themselves caught in a whirlpool of busyness during these days of Lent. That is, after all, our modern curse.

We are overwhelmed by a tsunami of too much: Too much stuff, too many activities and far too many people competing for our attention.

“Doing” Lent under those circumstances can easily reduce itself down to its lowest common denominator. Tuna sandwich for lunch on Fridays? Check. Grilled cheese for lunch on Ash Wednesday? Check. Confession, whether you need it or not? Check and check. And, oh yes, keep your sticky little fingers out of the candy dish at work.

Here we are, dealing with the fulcrum of history; the moment at which everything changed. We are considering the point at which the hopelessness of vanity, vanity all is vanity before Calvary was transformed into the birth of life everlasting after Calvary. Everything turns on that hilltop with the three crosses 2,000 years ago.

Lent is designed to take us there. It is meant to bring us to our knees before the foot of the cross where we can be born again.

But when you’re being drug by the runaway horse of overwhelming busyness that is our modern life, how do you do more than the minimum? How do you find the space, the quiet, the time to hear that still small voice?

I’ve dealt with this for years and to be honest, I’ve never found a fully satisfactory answer for it. Doing the minimum isn’t so minimum when it’s all you can manage. There is an element of faithfulness involved in those tuna sandwiches and skipped candy.

The trouble with doing the minimum is that it leaves you basically the same as you were before you did it. You don’t necessarily slide back spiritually the way you would if you didn’t try at all, but you won’t grow in Christ by doing the minimum. The minimum leaves you spiritually fed, but at a bare sustenance level.

Doing the minimum is just a step above not doing at all. It’s easy to slide from the minimum to less than the minimum and a deteriorating faith walk that leaves you half Christian.

How does anyone grow spiritually while living the lives we do, where emotional fracturing and distancing from faith seem built into the structure of it?

My advice, which is the advice of a woman whose Lenten practices are mostly a matter of minimums sandwiched into busyness, is to do at least the minimum, no matter what. Even if it means eating really substandard food like a spoonful of banquet carrots with a spoonful of banquet mashed potatoes with some kind of something that’s supposed to be gravy for lunch, do the minimum. Do it even if you can’t for the life of you remember your sins and have to search your memory while you’re standing in line outside the confessional.

I have a completely personal theology for doing the minimum that I call “God supplies the lacks.” What I mean by that is that I trust that if I don’t remember to confess every sin, or even my most important sins, God, Who knows everything about me, will supply the lacks and forgive me my forgetfulness, He supplies the lacks in my confession. God supplies the lacks. I don’t have anything but my own faith to base that on, but I believe it to a profound level.

I am not talking about deliberate refusal to do what you should when you have the opportunity to do it. I mean when you’re grinding metal in your life, God will supply the lacks to see you through it spiritually intact. All you have to do is your part, by which I mean those minimums offered up with the knowledge that the minimum is not really enough to keep you spiritually healthy for the long haul and a firm intention to do more and do better when you can.

This leads me to the “when you can” part of that. If your life is like Marine Corp boot camp 52 weeks out of every year, you really need to re-think your way of living. Otherwise, you’re going to be talking to God face to face a lot sooner than you expect. No one can use themselves up without breaking stride for their whole span of days.

You have to take time outs. It is essential to your sanity, health and purpose as a human being. For a workaholic, time out requires discipline. It is just as difficult for someone who is inured to a life of constant stimulation and overwork to take a pause as it is for a couch potato to get up and get moving. They are two sides of the same self-destructive coin.

Obeying the commandment to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” is your best friend in this. I didn’t know this a year ago. I didn’t even know it six months ago. I had one of those spoing! moments of insight that occasionally come along. I realized that I had been breaking one of the commandments without realizing the significance of what I was doing.

It’s not easy for someone like me to quit working for one full day each week. But I have found it to be my new best friend. I recommend it for anyone and everyone as a bare minimum of Christian living. It not only rests your mind; it opens your heart to God. I was surprised by the effect this simple act of obedience had on my closeness with Christ. If your job requires you to work on Sunday and you can’t get out of it, my advice is take your sabbath rest on another day. Do not cheat yourself of this great gift of the Sabbath.

Sunday rest is another bare minimum of Christian followership. But if you add it to the bare minimums of fasting, confession, weekly eucharist, you will find that they combine to lift you out of the basement Christian walk of maintenance spirituality and into a gentle curve of Christian growth.

Doing Lent in the fast lane is often about doing the minimum. The minimum will starve you spiritually over the long haul. But if you do it with love of Christ, you will be able to make up for it at other times.

That’s how I get through it. I do the minimum, and whatever else I can in addition to that minimum. And I trust God to supply the lacks.

  • Ray Glennon

    Rebecca,

    Thanks for this honest and hopeful reflection. This is the first time I have heard that “God supplies the lacks.” I like it–and I need it.

    Your post reminds me of a famous Mother Teresa story. Someone asked her how she kept going on in the slums of Kolkata since it was clear she would never be “successful” in eliminating poverty. And her response was, “God hasn’t called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.” It certainly echos the approach that you are taking at this very busy time in your life. And in one of my favorite Scripture passages, Paul implores the Ephesians to “live a life worthy of your calling” — and that would mean (if Mother Teresa is right) to be faithful, not necessarily successful. And how does that happen — because “God supplies the lacks.”

    A Lenten spritual opportunity that is important to me is to participate in the on-line book discussion sponsored by the Henri Nouwen Society. This year the group is reading two short books by Fr. Nouwen — Making all Things New and Heart Speaks to Heart. An experienced facilitator posts questions weekly and then the group posts their responses, reflections on the books, etc. If you or any of your followers are interested, they can learn more at http://wp.henrinouwen.org/rgroup_blog/

    I picked up Making All Things New last night and the first two paragraphs in the Introduction spoke to me and I thought you would appreciate it as well, given the content of this post. Nouwen writes:

    “In this book I would would like to explore what it means to live a spiritual life and how to live it. In the midst of our restless and hectic lives we sometimes wonder, “What is our true vocation in life?” “Where can we find the peace of mind to listen to the calling voice of God?” Who can guide us through the inner labyrinth of our thoughts, emotions, and feelings?” These and many similar questions express a deep desire to live a spiritual life, but also a great unclarity about its meaning and practice. I have written this book, first of all, for men and women who experience a persistent urge to enter more deeply into the spiritual life but are confused about the direction in which to go…”

    I know I’m one of those for whom Fr. Nouwen wrote this book… I’m looking forward to a blessed Lenten journey and I wish you and your followers the same.

    • hamiltonr

      Beautiful comment. Thank you Ray.

      • Ray Glennon

        And thank you for the positive feedback. I needed it today. :)

        • hamiltonr

          :-)

  • Elizabeth K.

    Oh Rebecca, Thank you! As a professor I struggle with this during both Advent and Lent; oddly enough, my New Year’s resolution has been to observe the sabbath. Which means making sure the work for the week gets done before that. It’s a struggle–such a change. Good to know I’m not alone in this.

    • hamiltonr

      Thanks Elizabeth. I feel the same way — it’s good to know someone else is walking this road.


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