Over the last month or so since I last wrote, life has been a little different. Some of it by my own designs and some of it just life happening. While I had intentions to blog about the some of the things as they happened, for a variety of reasons that didn’t happen. However, now seems like a pretty good time to take some time and dive into it a little bit more. For those of you who aren’t a big fan of some of my longer work or aren’t big on my experiences or religion, this is your warning. Otherwise here’s what I’ve been going through.
As part Lent this year I decided to do things a little different than I have in the past. Specifically I decided to not pray asks for myself except once a week where I was allowed to have 3 asks. While the 3 asks was originally designed to be something to focus on each week, in the end I used each week to pray for the same 3 things: Love, Wisdom, and Boldness. This was an unexpected outcome but in some ways that was part of what this project was about for me.
The reason I wanted to limit my asks for myself was for a few reasons. It wasn’t about giving up something that didn’t matter, rather it was giving away something that did to force myself to understand what power I have in asking, and how selfish or routine or unfocused I had been. Additionally I wanted to see what would happen when I had to ask others to pray for me. This one is harder to see the results of on individual basis in that I don’t necessarily know who was actually praying for me. The another big reason for why I wanted to remove asking prayer for myself, was to change up the manner in which I pray.
While I could get into some theological debates about good prayer vs bad prayer or some fun metaphysical properties of prayer, the bigger point is about the idea of not going through the motions. By changing a habit I was somewhat accustomed to it forced me to be aware of what I was doing to monitor that I wasn’t doing something I said I couldn’t do. This was especially painful and awkward for me the first couple of weeks where I would find myself asking something and immediately be like “oh wait I can’t do that, never mind” and need to start over. This adjusting the manner in which I did things was great. As I became more aware it also had an intended consequence of helping me to focus on what I was asking for in other people’s lives and have the ability to see if changes were occurring. It also helped me to focus better on the things I was asking for. While I could continue to talk about the overall concept of praying, it would probably just make more sense to explain why I asked for the same 3 things and how I saw them appearing in my life.
Boldness was an interesting one for me. Before Lent started boldness had been something that had been popping up a little bit in a few of my conversations. Things like needing to talk to others about issues and needing the boldness to make that happen. Or thinking outside the box and making bold ideas happen. There were more but I think you get the idea. The first Sunday following Ash Wednesday was the first time that I was able to pray a prayer with asks in it. In praying for boldness I specifically asked to be filled with the boldness described in the Bible. About 24 hours later Anna, my girlfriend, told me she had just read something that related to what I had asked for. She shared the following Bible verses:
And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. Ephesians 6:19-20 NLT
Did you catch the boldly and the pray for me parts? It’s fun how sometimes life seems to line up just so perfectly. I personally think it is God just showing off a little bit, saying “I’ve got this.” The thing that was interesting about this particular message was that it also was related to my asking for wisdom. Wisdom while always a good thing, has been one of those words that seems to pop up for me a lot when I start thinking about purpose. You see I have always been someone who focuses on questions such as what should I be doing with my life? It isn’t necessarily that I’m unhappy, there are many things in life that are going remarkably well for me. Rather there always seems to be this idea that something is missing, that there might be a greater purpose out there. Obviously I believe that a large portion of this is filled with my belief in God, but how to live out the beliefs that I have is where the wisdom, love, and boldness come in.
While I was searching for boldness in some areas, I was seeking wisdom to help me identify areas that I can grow and learn and improve and in some ways be bolder than I currently was. As my prayer life started to expand away from myself I found myself beginning to question how I could help others more. This idea of preaching and explaining God’s mysteries really hit home in this area. There are plenty of passages that speak about the wise man would rather keep his mouth closed and be thought a fool than open his mouth and remove all doubt, but for whatever reason speaking to others and helping to explain mysteries became something of a theme as well.
This somewhat conveniently started pouring over into the idea of Love. While Easter is often seen as a Love story of a Father towards His children, for me love became a wider theme across Lent. From showing love through helping with a homeless project in town, towards just having some very meaningful conversations about relationships and how to treat others, Love was noticeably present. However, the one that kept surprising me was the idea of loving myself. It’s funny in a time when I’m actively not praying for myself that I would consider the fact that I need to love myself more. This isn’t in a I hate myself regard or that I’m completely self indulgent, but rather sometimes it is easy for me to get caught up with everything else going on that I forget about myself.
This idea of love really came together on Good Friday. While sitting through the service at my church one of the questions that just kept popping into my head was, Who am I in the Crucifixion story? While traditionally I’ve normally felt myself being called as one of the thieves next to Jesus during the Crucifixion story, this year was different. I was torn between John and Mary Magdalene. For those who don’t know the story, John is one of the Disciples but was the only one that actually came to the Crucifixion, typically because he is believed to be quite young. Mary on the other hand was considered a follower of Jesus but as a women during that time period would basically have been seen as a nobody. The reason I found myself identifying particularly with Mary was the idea that she was at this horrific event not because of formal obligation such as being Jesus mother or even as one of his called disciples. Rather she followed this man and loved him to the point of obligation, where she was willing to face potential consequences just to be with him to the end.
I would hope that in my life I would be viewed entirely by that perspective, of having a bold love towards Jesus and a willingness to be there to the end. To believe even when life was at its darkest. Which immediately following the Good Friday service I felt this strange feeling. It was a sort of emptiness. It wasn’t like guilt or sadness or similar feelings that I’ve had previously. It was just like something was missing. The next day I went for a walk with Anna and we were discussing it, because she too had a similar feeling. In the end we identified it as this feeling of Lacking. Jesus death on Friday presents a world that is lacking. It presents a need for something more a desire that can’t be filled. Which thankfully on Easter that hole is filled for Christians.
If nothing else comes as the takeaway for me from Lent then I think this is the best lesson of what I learned: I’m not perfect and I will always be lacking. However, in seeking and trying to fill my life with love, boldness and wisdom I present the opportunity to be made whole, to grow, to serve, and to be made new. That’s my Lent and Easter story, what’s yours?