I am part of a clergy cohort, a learning community of young pastors led by an incredibly wise and discerning woman whose goal is to help us better understand ourselves as leaders, and to equip us to serve our communities and churches to the best of our abilities.
Oftentimes, lessons are taught in the form of competitions or challenges. One of my favorite modules to date was an exercise in which we were to imagine ourselves stranded in a van that had run off the road in a blizzard. There were 14 items listed on a piece of paper, and we were tasked to prioritize the items from “most useful” to “least useful,” based on the survival strategy we were to come up with on the spot. We had about ten minutes to consider our options, make our plan, and rank the items, which included a knife, a few ounces of beef jerky, a tire and hubcap, blankets, etc.
After we had finished our lists, we were introduced to a new surprise - our cohort of 20 was broken into four groups, and then told that we had a half-hour for each group to come up with a unified ranking! As anyone who has ever collaborated on a project under pressure (even the “fake” pressure of this game) would predict, it didn’t take long for disagreements to break out, voices to be raised, and accusations to fly as we each wrestled with how to best lead, follow, speak, and act to win the challenge.
Here’s the best part: our leader had asked us to set up cameras to record this entire event, and after we thought the exercise was complete, and we had received the “correct” answers from real-life survival experts, we had to go back and watch the tape. As it turns out, the challenge wasn’t about teaching us to survive in a winter storm, but rather, to observe and reflect together on how we survive the every day “storms” of managing our emotions, recognizing the edges of our comfort zones, and resolving conflicts.
It was fascinating to watch our body language - as some leaned in, others would cross their arms and turn away. We heard the tones in our voices shift, from confident suggestions, to incredulous questions, to heated disagreements, until finally, we would unite together on a plan.
Here we are today, weeks into the liturgical season of Lent. Through rhythms of worship, confession, sharing devotionals, spiritual practices, and “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word,” we have been intentional in taking a pause from the unbridled busyness, unintentional habits, unhelpful rhythms of our days - the noise - to reflect on our lives in Christ.
These new patterns of living are difficult - not because they are complicated, or strenuous, or require some kind of superhuman courage or skill. The work of Lent is difficult because it is counter to our nature. It’s easier not to give up the things that we want. It’s easier not to reflect on the state of our condition. It is often in our nature to consume, not fast; to self-fulfill, not self-deny; to go on believing the lies we’ve allowed to populate our thoughts, rather than scatter them in the light of the Gospel.
I would invite you to imagine the camera was set to record you. As you interact with family and friends, with folks from our church and community, with strangers, and neighbors, and enemies, I wonder: how are you embodying the gifts of the Lenten season? Are you irritable, argumentative, and stubborn? Are you gracious, gentle, and compassionate? Maybe it depends on the time of day, or even how long it’s been since you’ve eaten! Reflect, without shame or harshness, on how your words and actions are an outpouring of the internal work happening inside of you.
So on this day of this season, I want to encourage you with the simple admonition of the Apostle Paul, who writes to the churches in Galatia, “Let us not become weary in doing what is right.” Friends, this work of reflection, of emptying ourselves to allow space for God’s Spirit to occupy our hearts, minds, words, and actions, is part of that righteous work. So is the responsibility of apologizing, restoring, and bearing one another’s burdens.
I hope our journey to Easter continues to be filled with new revelations and insights as the truth of the Gospel anchors itself more firmly in our lives.
Grace and Peace,