I’ve got ashes on my forehead, which means Lent has begun. For my secular readers and those without a liturgical bent, Lent is the time in the church calendar for self-examination — a healthy exercise, whether or not you buy into church, Lent, or God. For 40 days, we enter our psychic wildernesses, root out the weeds in our internal gardens, prepare ourselves for Easter and hopefully our own annual resurrection. Most everyone associates Lent with self-denial (I’m giving up sugar), but I like what Martin Smith says in his book, Seasons of the Spirit, about disciplines, which he says so many of us have been trained to invoke at the beginning of Lent:
It should help us smile at our anxious attempts to bring our life under control, the belt-tightening resolutions about giving up this or taking on that. What we are called to give up in Lent is control itself.
I chose to give up sugar and not control for a reason. Sugar is much easier. I don’t know about you, but giving up control — or the illusion I have any — is a bit of an issue for me (understatement). Just last week, I was gripping tightly on an important creative project, a book proposal I’m developing. It’s a big opportunity, and there’s a lot riding on it. But instead of getting out of my own way, letting the work flow through me, trusting the creative process, and in my case, God, I was convinced that I alone was in charge of the outcome. Nothing of value was coming through. Frustrated and in tears, I stomped the 2.7 mile walk in front of my house, yelling at God the whole way. Loudly. With expletives. My dog Andy trotted along, confused.
Upon my return, I begrudgingly went back to my studio, sneering at the futility of it all. In my research, I happened upon an interview with the author Anne Lamott, where she talked about grace and our attempts to be in charge.
Grace is that extra bit of help when you think you are really doomed; also, not coincidentally, when you have finally run out of good ideas on how to proceed, and on how better to control the people or circumstances that are frustrating or defeating you. I experience Grace as a cool ribbon of fresh air when I feel spiritually claustrophobic. Sometimes I experience it as water-wings, something holding me up when I am afraid that I’m going down, or the tide is carrying me away. I know that Grace meets us whereever we are, but does not leave us where it found us. Sometimes it is so small–a couple of seconds relief here, several extra inches there. I wish it were big and obvious, like sky-writing. Oh, well. Grace is not something I DO, or can chase down; but it is something I can receive, when I stop trying to be in charge.
Reading those words, I received a boat load of grace. The work has been flowing ever since. Even still, I know I’ll be back to the place of control again, what with my being human and all. But hopefully in the next 40 days, I’ll make some progress. Wilderness, here I come.