The snow finally melted and an occasional robin could be seen rummaging through our bird feeder. My neighbor spent an unseasonably warm afternoon in his garden; gently raking away decaying leaves to reveal the bold tips of iris, crocus and tulips peaking though the soil, brilliantly green against the dark earth as if to herald the promise of spring and new life.
It gave me pause to ponder. Is there something like leaves forming a protective barrier in my life? A barrier that needs to go away so I, too, can welcome newness in life? I suspect most of us have them. They tend to flutter over us during times of emotional turmoil. I also suspect many of us keep our leaves a bit longer than necessary simply because they shelter us from something or someone we think we need protection from. Then, over time, they become such an entrenched part of us that we let them cover our potential for living renewed, restored and refreshed in this crazy world. Some of those leaves have names, like “fear of failure”, “over commitment”, “entitlement”, “complacency”, “impatience”, “blame” and the list goes on.
It happened at about 2:00am. My mind was twisting around the day that was theoretically laid to rest about five hours earlier. But, as it so often occurs in the female brain, closed eyes become a screen for an instant replay of the day. I suppose that means there is unfinished business or something hanging, like a task or conversation that needs to be resolved. Whatever the reason, it’s frustrating! This particular unsettled night revolved around more angles than a complex geometric diagram and refused to choose any predictable path. I finally put it, and my weary self, to rest by pulling out that indispensable iPhone and writing a note to myself. It read:
We go through life with the delusion that another’s perception makes us who we are when the only thing that matters is our understanding of who we were created to be in God’s world.
I guess the light of day filtered the depth of those thoughts a bit reminding me that there are things in our lives that make it difficult to recognize who we truly are. Through words and actions people tell us who they think we are or who they want us to be. Sometimes they are motivated by their own comfort or benefit; sometimes they are right and we are encouraged by their insights; and sometimes they are wrong, yet we begin to doubt who we are and Whose we are because of their words. Yet, like the fall leaves remaining in a spring garden, we need to take time to gently rake away the doubts so we can continue moving toward the self we were created to be.
This brings us to Lent and the tradition of giving something up for the 40 days leading toward Easter. I have heard this described as a spiritual discipline designed to let us know how deeply damaged we are and how desperately we need salvation. I have also heard Lent portrayed as a time to focus on our personal list of foibles as if pondering our inherent awfulness will lead to anything positive, let alone new life. It’s as if Lent is a time when we are supposed to brow beat, self flagellate and generally focus on everything negative we have ever been or done as a means to convince ourselves that we are nothing but trouble in need of a great deal of grace. Wow! That’s depressing…
Lent has also been more positively described as a time to let go of the things that hold us back, keeping us from becoming all that God created us to be. A time to reflect on the things that are keeping us from entering the complete fullness of the relationship God longs to have with us; to repent those things, which simply means to turn away from them, replacing them with a more positive behavior; and rejoice that God loves us unimaginably and wants us to shine in the world with the new life freely offered and given to us.
I have made several failed attempts at giving up chocolate for lent. I just can’t see the point in it and, as a friend told me, “Lent is not a diet.” Lent is supposed to be something like the leaves…something to remove so that something else can grow. Several years ago I gave up shopping, much to my budget’s delight! By the third week, the grip of the mall lessened. I found myself sinking into gratitude for what was and not continually longing for something I didn’t have. Another year I gave up an item every day. My closets have never been so clean and I was again humbled by the unnecessary abundance that can clutter the importance of life.
So, what about this year? What will actually make a lasting difference in my perception of who I am in God’s world? What warm and comforting leaves do I need to let go of so that I can fully embrace who I am and Whose I am in God’s world? What sprouts of new and refreshed life do I need to nurture and allow to bloom as I navigate, and often stumble, through life? All of these are deep and difficult questions, worthy of a long walk outside where the fresh air and new life of spring will most certainly add some clarity to the answers.