Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent)

What a great description of Lent! It's a time when we especially try, with God's help and by choosing certain disciplines and abstentions, to bring into order our unruly wills and affections. This year, like every other Lent that I've practiced, has been difficult, yet freeing. With only one week left of "regular Lent" (that's my own, non-theological expression) before Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, it's a good time to reflect a little.

Though the most common discipline associated with Lent is fasting from a food, I have never actually done it before this year. I tend to get muscle-tension headaches easily--in fact they often come and go throughout the day--but I can manage them quite well by getting enough sleep, having my jaws massaged once a month (which you can't get without the full-body massage...alas...), and choosing what I eat very carefully, since many foods, especially carbs, seem to trigger them. So giving up a food wasn't new or challenging for me, and since I've often been pregnant or nursing anyway, I just never really tried, choosing disciplines of engagement (reading and prayer) instead.

But this year, we decided that as a whole family, we would give up desserts and sweets. I quickly realized then, how unhealthy my late-night snacking habits had become. That's the one time of day that I can eat whatever I want, since I'm headed for bed and muscle-relaxing sleep, and not trying to stay alert and efficient. So I've been challenged by that, with resulting strengthening of my will, I believe. I've also really missed sugar or syrup in my morning coffee. Silly, I know--but my anticipation of Easter Sunday morning is "sweetened" by knowing that then, my coffee will be too!

Our pastor made a great analogy, as a reminder to us all, about fasting. He said that if you fast without praying, "it's like plowing up a field and not planting any seed in it." We made sure our kids heard that, and in our morning devotions, we've been encouraging them to pray for certain character qualities which they have selected, like diligence, kindness and responsibility. At last assessment, none of them felt like they had grown significantly in these areas, but the analogy holds true: they are planting seeds. Some seeds sprout quickly, others take a long time--and it is God who gives the growth.

Personally, I feel the same way. Every year at Lent, I try to abstain from anger, something that so many moms struggle with. (A friend told me of a true story she read in a book, about a pastor who gave a sermon on anger and 18 people came forward for prayer afterward--all mothers of young children!) This year, as a corollary, I've been praying for more love. I've posted the familiar 1 Corinthians 13 in my kitchen, intending to polish my memorizing of it--haven't actually done that, but have read it often in the last 5 weeks.

I can't say I've had any huge breakthroughs in these areas, and that's the way it's been almost every Lent for me. But have I planted more seeds of prayer in these areas? You betcha. And overall, my control of my temper has increased over the years. I've been fairly faithful in my reading and prayer, as well--although sticking to our school and chore schedule, which we've been trying to do faithfully during Lent, has been unexpectedly, unusually hard.

What deepens for me each Lent is my sense of dependence on God. Yes, I choose to plant the seeds in prayer, but it is God who gives the growth. I must exert my will to choose self-control, to choose love--but without God, I cannot bring my unruly wills and affections into order. I need God's grace to love what He commands and desire what He has promised more than I love and desire my own preferences and comforts.

In the midst of the swift and varied changes of my days, may my heart be fixed where true joys are to be found.

2 comments:

fannie said...

I'm new here at your place, but I've been enjoying my visits immensely. Thank you for such a poignant reminder of what this thing called life is all about!

At A Hen's Pace said...

Fannie,

Welcome, and thanks for the encouragement!