Before kids, much of my Lent Journey centered around reorienting my schedule. But now that my schedule is often controlled by the schedule of two other humans, that has become more difficult.
When my daughter’s first birthday, and Valentine’s Day, fell on Ash Wednesday I felt the weight of hopes and expectations for myself as a mother, wife, and follower of Jesus crush me to ashes. I ended the day knowing that I am but dust. Every bit of evil in the world intends for me to find nourishment by the sweat of my brow until I return to the dirt that I tend so vigorously.
The thing about holiday culture is that expectations drive us away from holiness. It’s a contrast, isn’t it, to seek the cease of self-striving? How can you actively seek something AND that something be the end of striving?
The Christian faith is full of these impossible paradoxes. We are called to seek but not strive, trust and obey, be actively patient, be still and know while taking up our cross. This is the life of following the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This is the life of following the Sacrificial Lamb.
Most of my distracting stress this year has come from feeling pressure for my every day of Lent to feel holy. I want it to be special. But I sense the Spirit of God reminding me to use this time to prepare, rather than perform. The 40 days of Lent draws from many sources of meaning, one of which is the 40 day fast that Jesus partook in after his baptism and as a start to his more formal “ministry years”. The fast was, in itself, a ministry to us as he defeated the temptations we lacked the strength to withstand, but it was also a time of preparation.
Surely with each passing day he felt hungrier, however he was prepared for the increased temptation by the strength he gained from the previous hour’s obedience.
This is what I want. I want my obedience today, to prepare me for a greater obedience tomorrow. I want my need to connect with God himself in order to withstand today’s temptation to culminate on Holy Week.
But I keep feeling behind. I continue wishing I would have, could have, been ready for a better fast, a truer fast, a more intentional study. I beat myself up for having too much on my to-do list getting in the way of my time with God. What happened to me? Where did my time for true devotion go? Why can’t I seem to make this time feel special like it used to?
The Desert of Motherhood
What it comes down to is that I am in a desert. My desert isn’t empty, it’s really, really full. Between my 2.5 year-old following in my footsteps of big emotions, my 1 year-old being absolutely fearless, and my soul churning need to continue carving out time to write, I find myself tangled in a jumanji-like mess of sippy cups that have come to life. So maybe it is more like a jungle. But wandering in a jungle produces similar needs within your soul as wandering in a desert. I cannot live on silence alone. I cannot live on orderliness alone. I cannot live on solitude alone. I cannot live on self-care alone. I cannot live on all of these things I crave alone, but on the very Word of God. He is my portion. My life is found in Him.
The spiritual terrain of young motherhood is not yet familiar to me. I cannot figure out how to tame it to my spiritual comfort zone, but I can connect with God. Much like food is not a bad thing to crave when you are hungry, my aforementioned cravings are not bad. They are valuable things that I do need, but they will not make me holy. The gift of Christ’s righteousness alone makes me holy. Space, time, and rest are not the things I need most. I need God most. And Lent is a time to connect with that truth.
As I walk toward Holy Week, a week set aside to worship my Savior and King who died so that I might live in him, I am submitting to experiencing my need for his death and resurrection.
My hope for this season is to embrace each day that I cannot make myself or this holiday holy; and in doing so, cease striving to be my own life giver. Then, observing entanglements all around me, I will ask God to sustain me, save me, and make space for holy moments.
It will still be difficult, and I want it to be. I don’t want it to be a “scrambling to make it” kind of difficult, but a “choose what is better” kind.
The kind that says:
- Less escape from the jungle so the Holy Spirit can guide me through it.
- More careful, prayerful, questioning of each task on my list, hour in front of a screen, and purchase I make.
- Less comparison to the “perfect world” in my mind.
- More submission to his perfect will, found when I am slow to speak and quick to listen to his Spirit.
- Be disciplined in prayer, more so now than ever.
- Connect with the God of the desert (and the jungle), the God who can make these dry bones come alive.
Lent has always been a time of preparation for me, but as my life stage dictates less structure I am forced to let go of my usual tactics and look for God in the chaos. In doing so, I have experienced unexpected clear space in this jungle, to which I can only credit God’s goodness. My girls played together without any fussing for almost two hours last week during which I managed to pack two boxes of give-away clothes and toys for the foster-care closet in town. TWO HOURS. No asking for a snack. No pushing each other or pulling each other’s hair. No fighting over a toy. No dirty diapers or potty accidents. “Make this space for us, God. Keep making this space.” I whisper my shouts of exaltation.
God be for me today more present than my failures, more spacious than my time allows. Transform for me these sacrifices of praise, weak in purity and form, into holy hallelujahs. And somewhere in this toiling remind me that you alone give me life, and life abundant.