I’ve been thinking about Lent this year and honestly, I’m exhausted. I feel like I have given up so much during this season of life (the ability to sleep through the night uninterrupted, my free time, time to read for pleasure, my personal space as little boys cling to me constantly). The idea of being asked to give up something during Lent is almost enough to break me. So, instead of giving in to that guilt I’ve been trying to figure out what “giving up something for Lent” is supposed to be doing to form my character and my spirituality.
From my perspective, one thing that the practice of giving up something – food, entertainment, indulgence – during the annual season of Lent does for our souls is that it reminds us about our own limits. In our culture of food, entertainment, and even other people, are on demand and at our fingertips, we can mask the fact that we are limited human beings that cannot do everything.
I have been reminded all too often in the past year or so that I am a limited human being. In most situations, I like to be in control. I have a knack for sitting back and watching a situation, seeing what is going on and summarizing it for the people around me, then breaking down the steps of a plan to move forward in light of what I observe. This tack works well at New Leaf, where we are a group of innovators who are looking at the world with hope to change and improve it. I have been so encouraged to use this gift in the service of New Leafers who have the vision to start something.
Even as I get excited by the opportunities around the network, I see the limits of my time to do all the projects that are possible. I long for more time to do these things that are giving life to my soul. Part of what is limiting my time is that just as I feel like opportunities are opening up for me, the reality of small children in our family demands a special kind of time and attention – time that is quite often out of my control to schedule when I share my energy – if I could schedule it – I would reschedule the middle-of-the-night cries for mom that have become so familiar.
While my work at New Leaf has been encouraging, I have been less encouraged when the shadow side of the organizer part of my personality surfaces as I try to parent the tiny humans in my life. With both my boys (who just turned 1 & 3) it started when they each had trouble feeding in the early weeks of life. I thought – this should just work – but it didn’t. I couldn’t make it work. I was limited in how I could even feed my babies. I needed help. Now, as Ira struggles to sleep through the night and doesn’t always respond to the techniques described in the books, I know I am a limited human being, I don’t have the answer to how to help him sleep. And, I know even more keenly how limited I am when I am sleep deprived the day after a rough night.
As Oswald grows older, and vocabulary and self-awareness give us more access to how he sees the world, I am more and more aware of my limits as a person, and as a parent. One minute I am saying “I don’t understand why he won’t just believe me and do it my way,” then the next minute I see myself in him as he stubbornly asserts the very same thing back to me in his own pre-schooler way. It’s hard to see yourself reflected back in the face of your kids. I know for certain I am a limited human being in the middle of the power struggle when that mirroring back becomes a standoff.
As my awareness of being a limited human being increases, I am tempted to insolate myself in an attempt to solve the problem and feel not quite so limited, but I think the season of Lent is actually calling me in a different direction. This Lent I am feeling called toward my neighbour, instead of turning inward to do a thorough self-examination. I thought that Lent would raise my awareness of my neighbour so that I would know where I could reach out and help others. Where I could extend more love and compassion. But what if this Lent, when I already feel stretched thin, the call to look around at my neighbours is because they can help me. These fellow limited human beings can offer solidarity, companionship and maybe a helping hand as we all sit with our limitedness.
Dear God, as we set aside ourselves for this season of Lent, in recognition of your suffering. Help us to become more and more aware of your grace and love. Help us to see You in the eyes of our neighbour, both when we hold out our hand to offer hope, and when that compassion is reaching out to us. May we identify with your suffering – through self-denial, through self-discipline, through courage in trials – and may it bring us closer to You and to our neighbours who journey with us.