As I was preparing for Ash Wednesday last night, I was trying to come up with some practical ideas for what Lent invites us to do. I wanted something more than “find something you enjoy doing and give it up.” That seemed to miss the whole point of the Lent: to be intentional for a season of our life in nurturing our love relationship with God.
So, what to do?
I settled on focusing on tea. Well, not hot tea, though I enjoy a nice cup of green tea, or a chai latte from time to time, but T.E.A.
Time, Energy, and Attention.
By looking at these three areas and some new choices, we can go far in growing in our love for God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Isn’t that a common complaint we have about wanting to spend more time in prayer, scripture, caring, and serving? We don’t have enough time. So we might say we need more hours in the day.
Think about what happens when we expand our storage and living space: we don’t have more space, we just accumulate more stuff. We add more space, we add more stuff. Same thing with time. We might have more time available to us, but if we aren’t intentional about how we use our time, we fill it with stuff to do, and we still complain about not having enough time.
So the first thing we must do with Time is look at the time stealers. Don’t look at what other people do that use up our time, look at your own distractions and activities. The things that you do that use up your time. A couple times I have tried to chart my real schedule. Take a day or a week to really track what you do with your time. It is humbling to see the things I do that take 15 minutes there, or half an hour there. And some of that time, I can’t even remember what I was doing, the distraction was that complete.
So, take a look at something that you just do without intention and without benefit. Instead choose each day to use it for God. Don’t have enough time to pray, close your browser or Facebook for 15 minutes and rest in God’s presence with your heart open to share your concerns and to listen to God’s concerns. Instead of watching 2 hours of television tonight, watch one hour and read the Bible or reach out in care to someone you know and love.
Lent invites us to make time to grow holy.
All three of these ideas are interrelated. Our energy fluctuates during the day. Our energy ebbs and flows throughout the day. Maybe our best energy is in the morning, maybe the afternoons are notoriously low energy.
What do we use our best energy doing?
Do we use our high energy moments for fun yet self-centered tasks? Do we usually wait for our low energy phases for thinking about prayer and devotions? I’m afraid that is usually what I do. When I am feeling good, I do something I like for myself, but then leave the leftovers for God and my other relationships.
How can I notice my best energy times and use them for enriching love: for God, my family, and my neighbor?
The other aspect of energy that is good to consider is how we can increase our energy level. This is where I meddle in body health.
Over the last year as I have lost 40 pounds and sought to keep it off, I have recognized that there are lots of ways we fill our bodies with unhealthy energy sources. And I don’t always do the things that increase that healthy energy.
Do I depend on sugary foods and caffeinated beverages to give me energy? They might help for a short while, but as we grow dependent upon them for our energy we have to keep increasing the intake to maintain the energy flow. I have been learning the value of healthy foods and good old water as ways to be filled with healthy energy that doesn’t leave me to crash and burn.
The other energy question I have to face is sleep. I’m very glad that God created the nap. Yet, I have been learning (still needing to relearn) that working toward a good night’s sleep definitely decreases the need for a nap (though I still one on Sunday afternoons) but also ensures that I have more healthy energy available during the day. For Lent I’m going to bed earlier to have that good energy available to all my relationships.
We are self-absorbed people. Always have been, always will be.
The humility of Lent shows me how much of my actions all come back to having my attention be on me. I hate this list, because it is very humbling (and I am exaggerating, but only barely).
Procrastination: I want to do what I want to do right now. Later I might get to it if I can’t think of anything more pleasurable for me to do at the time.
Cynicism: I can’t see how this gives me anything I want. If it doesn’t help me I don’t see why anyone should have it.
Criticism: I don’t like it, so it is wrong. My style and taste is the only way things should be. Everyone must do it my way.
Frustration: Why can’t others make my life easier? Why can’t the universe just cooperate with me?
I could go on, and I’m sure you could add some ideas of your own. But I hope you get the point, a lot of our attitudes are self-focused and those attitudes spawn actions that move us away from loving others, loving God, and really from loving ourselves.
God’ presence offers us the grace of truly caring. When we turn our attentions away from ourselves and what we want exclusively we will find that our neighbors are people with similar hopes and dreams, concerns and pains. We find that through God we are able to actually be freed from frustration, complaining, worry, and distrust.
With our attention on our true Center, everything begins to fall into place and we find God’s abundant life flowing through us.
What will you put in your Lenten cup of T.E.A. this year?