Lent: Day Thirty-eight

Two more days left in my Lenten observance. It is hard to believe that tomorrow is already Good Friday. I don’t feel ready for it yet, for a number of reasons.

Coming back from trips is hard for me, since it takes me a while to get back into my routine. While I enjoy traveling, I have found that like most of the human race, I am a creature of habit. For that reason, after a long trip (I consider anything five days or longer a long trip) I find myself out of sorts for a few days upon returning until I can get back into my rhythm. That is affecting my Lenten observance.

Part of this problem is due to my being a contractor who works out of my home and therefore sets my own schedule and work hours. My wife, who works at a company and whose time is primarily other-directed, slips right back into her externally ordered routine. Yes, she does have to get back into her own work rhythm, but she has numerous external cues, demands, and a company framework to help her. When, in essence, you organize your entire day yourself, all of that is left for you to do. One of the only ongoing routines I have had over the last forty or so days has been my Lenten observance, which was disrupted by my trip.

With that in mind, I am not saying that I don’t have some external demands. Email and blogging are regular demands, apart from my Lenten observance. Upon getting back, these demanding tasks, sorting out my email and getting caught up with my blog, literally screamed at me when I returned. I had hoped to keep those two items up-to-date on my trip but due both to problematic Internet access at our hotel and my desire to participate in the conference, I got way behind. I had also hoped to maintain my Lenten observance in much the same way I had at home but demands and distractions prevented that, or maybe I should say I allowed them to prevent it.

The conference has its own demands. While I enjoy seeing people that I only interact with through email or on the phone, for each of the last two years I have thought that the current conference might be my last. If I weren’t speaking, I probably wouldn’t have attended anymore, since the free admission ($1200 savings) and the speaker’s fee almost pays for my expenses. I couldn’t justify the expense at this stage of my career. Remember, being self-employed means the cost comes out of my pocket. But, it is hard to let go of something you have come to view as an integral part of your professional life, especially when it is largely paid for.

This give and take in my professional life mirrors a similar give and take in my spiritual life. Like abandoning a conference, leaving a church that you have attended for years can be disrupting. The routines and church-related friendships you have nurtured give your spiritual life a sense of stability. And I believe that the less robust your personal spiritual life is (prayer, study, family devotions) the harder any such change is on your sense of Christian self.

Good churches, with robust programs, become like an externally-directed work life. They supply a lot of the daily routine you need to get things done. The study, worship, prayer, and sense of Christian self is in a large part supplied for us by the church-supplied activities and how we make them part of the ongoing routine of our spiritual life.

I see this as both good and bad. Good, in that it gives us structure and habit around which to organize our busy lives. It allows us to focus on the actual learning and growing rather than having to spend time initiating these things for ourselves. Bad in that it can make us dependant on those things for what we are as Christians, even dangerously so. This may be the reason that church splits, dissolutions, or having to leave a church will cause many people to question their larger faith.

I believe that there needs to be a balance with us realizing that while fellowship and community are important and the resources it makes available to us are aids in growing and maturing in the faith, it is what we do personally and within our immediately family, the personal habits that we cultivate, that are what we can take with us wherever we go; are what sustains us in the end.

Maybe that is why I am so uncomfortable with program- and purpose-driven approaches and am infinitely more concerned with discipleship-based methodologies. While they also can be externally driven, their focus is on internal spiritual growth and the establishment of good spiritual habits. This is something to think about and investigate more fully in a future posting.

Dear Lord, help us to appreciate the shepherds and mentors you have given us as well as the churches and programs that have aided us in our growth in you. But also help us to nurture our own spiritual strength and maturity so that whatever storms may come to assail our faith, we may be well grounded on the rock of your presence in our lives and not just your presence within our churches. Amen.