When it came to trying to decide what to give up for Lent this year, I was trying to think of something very meaningful. Upon reflection, of past Lenten seasons, I felt like I have been on a downward spiral over the past two or so years with regard to focusing on my own piety. During Lent's past, I've always thought about how much pain and suffering Jesus endured on my behalf .... so it seemed logical that during Lent, the least I could do was to give up something I love. Several years ago, I gave up Mexican food. If you know me, you know that was killer for me because I am pretty much addicted to it (and iced coffee) and my family generally eats Mexican pretty much every Sunday after church.
It seemed to me that I was on a roll with Lent several years ago, as far as having meaningful and memorable experiences went. I think it all started many years ago when the congregation I was serving at the time was challenged to not only give something up for Lent but to add something in the place of what you were giving up. But, for the life of me, I can't remember what I gave up / added last year.
So for the past several weeks, I've been contemplating what to do this year that would mean something. I had basically decided on the Mexican food thing again for this year and then it hit me. A self assessment: I've gotten into this routine of finding it very easy to complain and be negative. Life in general has been very stressful and busy and I feel tired. I've been to the doctor because my Vitamin D levels are low and my blood pressure is high. Don't get me wrong, I'm not making excuses for this inappropriate behavior because there is none. But I am saying that when I am stressed and busy I sometimes get grumpy and more emotional than usual (ha!) and it is easier to be negative and plea my case to EVERYONE around me. Sorry if you've been in my path on those days. I even tend to take the smallest of complications and turn them in to "end of the world" problems. This is not healthy!
I've also been thinking a lot about a class that I took in my Master's degree work called "Spiritual Disciplines." Perhaps this was a nudge from the Holy Spirit for this Lenten season? In the class we studied Richard Foster's spiritual disciplines. As I view it, Foster's premise is that these spritual disciplines are ways to enhance and grow in our relationship with God. It's kind of like an excercise routine for your soul! There's a lot of thought on this in contemporary theology. Foster's disciplines include: meditation, worship, prayer, fasting, confession, silence/solitude, and others!
I've always had a great interest in the discipline of solitude/silence and even did a project on it my Master's work. Combated with my recent negative attitude and the thought of my mother's great teaching: "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all," I decided that I was going to give up being negative for Lent. But I knew it had to be more ... there had to be something radical ... because not being negative would honestly, probably only have lasted a week or so for me.
Then at the Ash Wednesday worship service last night it hit me like a ton of bricks; made my stomach drop and all! I couldn't beleive the thought popped in to my head! Pastor Tim was preaching on piety and I decided I was not going to talk at all for the next 40 days. I was going to be silent and look for God and positives instead of getting all wrapped up in my stress and busy-ness. This too, was not practical; it really would have not worked ... after all, I have a 5year old son. Further, I am recquired to communicate in my job.
So I debated with myself and came to the conclusion that I would be silent for the better part of one day a week. Since I work at home on Thursdays, I've decided that this is probably the best day to try that will enable potential success in this. Of course, I'll have to answer the phone for work related items and I'll generally have to be on the computer for work. And, I'll have to give direction, affirmation, and instructions to my son and husband. But other than that, Thursdays will be my silent / solitude day. No television, no radio, no non-essential verbal communication.
It sounds a little radical but it's more than just not talking. I'm also adding in trying to be alert to the presence of God and feel the best way I can do that is through this silence and reflection of what I experience in the silence. I really pray that this can be a season of responding more positively to God and the blessings in my life instead of being consumed by the stress and busy-ness and negative-ness in my life.
The thing is, from my original thought of being silent all throughout Lent, this really is not that much. It's only six different times in the next 40 days or 144 hours of silence. That is really nothing in the grand scheme of things! (Yes, folks, that was a personal pep talk.) I think, however, that the personal reflection will be the key. In the times where I would have normally watched television or partaken in gossip and venting with friends or my husband, I'll be adding the reading of "The Ethics of Martin Luther" and "The Confessions of Saint Augustine" and other books to help in some reflection.
It's amazing that even in the past 12 hours of today's initial try at silence and solitude what I have noticed that I wouldn't normally notice .... the dripping of the faucet that urges me toward the fact that I'm being a poor steward of the environment (no that's not me being negative, that's me challenging myself to do better) .... the rain drops falling on the roof that made me look at the window and notice how green my grass has become (overnight it seems) and how new life is springing forth all around ... the chirping of birds out my home office window that normally would have annoyed me, today, seem refreshing and calming; I close my eyes as I sit at my desk and realize how worn out I am! This is something I would have unhealthily just pushed through and ignored before; at least I can admit it today.
It's a start. I will say, I've had to be intentional already today to not turn on the television or some music. I know tonight at bedtime I'm really going to miss the television noise in the background. But, I am committed to this act of piety and whatever God can teach me through it.