Holy Week brings reminders that God's work to save me is finished.
So why do I feel unfinished?
I knew I would struggle to "finish" this Lenten season, and as I reflect on Holy Saturday, I see I finished nothing that I started for Lent.
On March 1, Ash Wednesday, I had written: I can't escape the pull to a Lenten season of repentance and reflection. But, as usual, I have been unsure of what shape that will take for me. Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship? Does it have to be daily or can it evolve over the 40 days, not including Sundays, leading up to Easter.
One of the disciplines I pondered was to let go of a bag of stuff for each of the 40 days. This may seem like a superficial act to some, but as I went through some of my possessions that first day in an effort to fill the bag, I was aware time after time how I cling to things, and only by focusing on God's love through Christ could I make the decision to just put it in the bag.
As recently as the morning of Good Friday, I thought it was possible I would fill some more bags -- and reaching the goal of 40 did not seem unreasonable, although I knew I could also be satisfied to fill the equivalent of one per week (six). But before the day ended, perhaps after attending the Good Friday service, I was back to realizing I likely would not fill another bag.
(For the record, I just tallied what I had done all those days ago, and it's even less than I thought: One large paper bag and three and a half plastic grocery bags. I also took a bag full to Goodwill, and there's one other large bag that my husband and I filled together.)
And then, this morning, I TOOK THREE THINGS OUT of one of the bags I had filled!!! Later, I went shopping. I bought greeting cards, Easter trinkets and two hairbands. So, instead of getting rid of stuff, I bought more.
But I took three of the cards and the trinkets as I visited women who are in care facilities or homebound. One did not respond to my knock on the door, so I left the card and Easter cross at the front desk. The other two eagerly greeted me and we shared smiles and laughs and encouragement. One said my visit turned her day around as she was starting to feel discouraged. The other said my stopping by was perfectly timed, and I was able to retrieve her letters and magazines from the mailbox.
I'm not sure what to make of all that, but I am certain it was more important today for me to make those visits than to attempt to fill more bags with stuff I no longer need.
"Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:26-27
Meanwhile, I read the Upper Room and a Lenten devotional each day and unexpectedly joined a Lenten book study at church, but I lapsed on the disciplines of two habits I was trying to form. One involves putting even routine things on my calendar to help structure my day, and the other involves a spreadsheet that helps me set daily and longer-term goals and assess my progress.
The lapse in the written disciplines came at the same time I realized I might not fill another bag, which was during or right after a weeklong trip to Houston and other parts of Texas. And as is always the case for me, I'm having a very hard time getting back on track with these endeavors. But I haven't given up.
As I wrote March 8: But before Ash Wednesday was over, I had failed my loftiest goals. And by the end of the second day, I had failed to achieve what seemed like a very doable daily goal. So, I realized again the value of "progress not perfection." ... A big part of how I experience humility is through having to let go of perfectionism. The process continues.
I also found myself hopeful that the spiritual focus of Lent would help me regain a sense of purpose or direction that has been missing even before I lost my job. While writing March 22, I was reminded of the importance of pursuing my passion. What came to mind then, as it has before, was that "my passion is to help and encourage others. ... I want to write. I want to sing, And I want to help and encourage others, to God's glory."
By the end of the week, I had written it into a goal and had hopes of starting to take action I knew would be required to achieve it. But all these days later, no real progress has been made and I have even found myself questioning whether it was a realistic goal.
Yet, this still seems true: I need to write encouraging words. That's what I've been doing, but it hasn't seemed significant. But maybe that's because I haven't believed in its merit. ....
Of course, I also wrote down this truth: I have to live my life one day at a time. So, even though I wrote my goal down as something I hope to achieve for an event next March, I cannot take much time thinking about the results. I'll be busy enough planning what I need to do and then doing it.
That brought me back around to something worthy to let go of, and not just during Lent: Even as I plan and even if and when I take action, I cannot control the results. ... I tend to think of myself as a people-pleaser, which at least at first glance seems the opposite of controlling, but when I saw this in "Jesus Calling," I was convicted: in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. ... As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care."
Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship?
I've had unexpected, surprising and rewarding opportunities for fellowship. Many required me to get out of my comfort zone. And, as my faith grows, it's getting a little less uncomfortable to do so.
It's often a challenge for me to interact with others without meddling. I often have to ask prayerfully: Is this God's plan? Or is this just me trying to control a situation and do what I want to do? I never do it without praying, including a request that God stop me from intruding if it's not His will. Still, it's not always clear. And I'm very aware that it doesn't follow the rules of etiquette. But I also know that God's ways are not always our ways and don't always follow the rules of man or etiquette experts.
From March 31: I'm grateful to realize I'm also having more success at inviting others to join me. I just remembered another case in which I will follow through tomorrow. Reaching out, whether to invite someone to join me or to ask if I can join someone else, requires me to face some fears and self-doubt, which I can only do by trusting in God. And He is always faithful to be present with me if I will allow him to.
By April 8, I was again more aware of my shortcomings than my strengths. Writing helped me to remember what I want and need to focus on: Purpose. Priorities. Passion. Persistence. Progress not perfection. Payoff. Production. Perseverance. Prayer. Praise. To the glory of God, by whom we know, via Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Self-doubt returned in force by April 12, this time regarding singing. I don't know how to practice to get better. I just go by instinct. Is that God's best for me -- and I just need to go with it and trust Him with it? Or am I being lazy and unfocused?
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62:8
As I'm trying to focus and wrap this up for 2017, I turn to what I wrote last year. I know I have done many worthwhile things spiritually as well as practically, but I still seem to be at this exact same place.
As happens at least half of the time for me when the contemplation of Lent gives way to the celebration of Easter, this is a year when I know I still have a lot of work to do. I don't recall Lamentations 3 as being a key part of the Holy Week liturgy in the past, but it has come up several times this year. And how grateful I am for it. "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)
So, as I prepare to again celebrate the gift of God who gave His only Son to die on a cross to pay the debt for my sins -- and did not let Him stay in the grave -- my heart is filled with gratitude but also, I pray, humility. Now if I can just take the next step, to obedience. Not my will, but Yours, Lord, I pray.
Maybe this year I will.
"God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
"I can be strong and courageous. I will not be afraid or tremble, for the Lord goes with me. He will not fail or forsake me." (Isaiah 41:10)