At the beginning of a longer trip recently, I had the notion to pull into the slow lane and drive in silent prayer. I was struggling with stress and anxiety from an emotionally challenging week and month. Something needed to change. I pictured myself in black space (with my eyes on the road!) approaching a door and knocking. And within a few short moments, I sensed the opening of the door and a presence I hadn’t felt in quite some time.
Lent (the season that leads up to Easter in the church) is like that car ride. It’s a journey during which we can get deeply in touch with our need to get out of the fast lane and listen. It’s a time when we try to remember that the pace of our world makes us selfish and unaware. It’s a period when we try on something temporary in order to wear what’s permanent.
It’s when we remember what Jesus did, and we try to do likewise.
But then, of course, the question (to which we can never assume we know the answer) is, what did Jesus do? Well…that’s what Lent is, too, learning what Jesus did by walking alongside him to the cross. And like the disciples, we’ll probably do it kicking and screaming and falling asleep along the way.
But we keep going nonetheless, because Jesus says to the cross is where we must go.
So Lent is our best effort to share Jesus’ journey to the cross. And without getting too ahead of ourselves (without trying to answer completely, what did Jesus do?), Jesus goes to the cross to name and beat what’s been beating us. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to to do:
slow down, listen and name what’s beaten us.
The word we’ve used (in the church) to describe what we’re doing during Lent is penitence. That’s why many of us start Lent by getting marked with ashes, as a sign of our penitence, a sign of our confessing what’s beaten us. It’s also why we give up things, why we try on a different discipline for awhile.
I drove in the slow lane.
And as a result, I realized what’s been beating me up (and probably others, too). I realized that so much of my weariness comes from my need to control the pace. I’d much rather be in a position of control than surrender. I’d rather be in the fast lane where I’m burdened by the slower cars in front of me and the faster cars behind me. I’d rather be there so I can get to the destination I have in my head faster.
But when I slowed down…turned off the music…turned off the phone…and meditated…and prayed…I saw it. I understood.
What’s been beating me up is control. At a deeper level, it’s a lack of belief, that God’s way is better.
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In that quiet, slow lane, I found awareness. I found mindfulness. I found simplicity. I found Presence. I found myself happy with the people around me, even the ones passing me. I eventually found myself at the destination with peace, energy and a new level of wholeness.
So for Lent I’m going to keep driving in the slow lane in silence every day as an outward sign of what I hope becomes a continued inward penitence. That may not seem like much self-denial, but for me, it might be a lot. What about you? What are you going to try on for awhile? What’s beating you?
Whatever you do, I hope we’ll journey together with Jesus for the next several weeks. I hope we’ll learn what he did by walking alongside him. I hope we’ll stay alert. I hope we’ll wake up to what’s been beating us. I hope we’ll bear the cross. I hope that whatever’s been beating us will begin to die.
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Bonus: Some ideas for a spiritual discipline.
1. Fast. Spiritually committed people have been doing this for centuries for the very reason that it can wake you up like nothing else. You can fast a certain food. You can fast a meal. You can fast a certain day of the week. You can fast the whole time (with caution!). In any case, supplement your fasting with prayer–that God might show you something extraordinary through your fasting.
2. Technological fast. Seriously, none of us knows how disconnected we are until we disconnect from our technology. Replace TV time or social media or the like with a time of study and/or prayer.
3. Added study/prayer. Last year I added a night study/prayer session to my day during which I read through the Psalms. I experienced spiritual transformation and physical transformation (I slept much better).
4. Financial sacrifice. If you don’t give to your church or a charitable organization regularly, build a budget with a weekly donation as the top line of the budget. If you give already, increase your giving for a time. Pray ceaselessly about your finances.
5. Serve. Challenge yourself to a weekly discipline of service. Serve at your church or at another local organization. Pray about a growing lifestyle of service.
In every case, the discipline should add something to you even if you’re taking something away. Also, remember that the discipline is not just about YOU. It should hopefully unite you with God and others.