We’re at week four of our six week Lenten Journey. The middle place that can be a point of tension. We’re not finished, but we’re no longer at the beginning.
This point, the midway, of any journey is where we begin (or deepen) our tendency in life of: I wish this were over. I wish I could start over and do this better. The desire to escape where we are.
It’s at the midway point that we really begin to discover ourselves and our relationship to what’s happening around us. We’ve learned more and that’s good, but we don’t like being in a place of what feels like we could be doing better or we feel like we’re not doing well at all. We seek ways to avoid what we’ve committed to. This is why the lenten journey is fairly long. It give us time to deeply settle and to be deeply challenged. To really know ourselves and our place in this world. Isn’t that what Jesus is doing in the desert? Knowing, without a doubt, who he is, his strength, and his place in the world.
Life is a journey of beginnings, middles, ends, new beginnings, new middles, and new ends. More often than not, maybe most of the time, we don’t know what’s a new beginning, what’s a middle, and what’s an end.
Lent gives us a practice in very clear beginnings, a middle, and an ends. To learn. To explore. To become stronger. To become more compassionate. To be strong with (notice Lent has pieces of solitude and pieces of community). It’s a full and rich practice. Of giving up and letting go. Of intentional practice and prayer. Of intentional Becoming.
And we’re at the tension point. I wish this were over. Next year, I will do better. Next time, I’ll do better. Tomorrow is another day. If I could start over, I’d choose differently. Maybe I should just quit.
There are three very distinct phases on a journey. A few clues were in the above: beginning, middle, and end.
Let’s explore the beginning. This is our phase of preparation and planning. The exciting part that’s full of choices and possibility. To keep it simple, do I give up (take away) chocolate or commit to (add in) a daily practice of prayer (fill in your own “take away” or “add in”)?
Perhaps it’s a simple plan or a plan full of color coding, concrete measurable goals, rewards, and contingency plans for what to do when extra challenging times arise. This can be a really exciting part, all on its own. Reflecting on one’s strengths and weaknesses and then planning. Choosing a new and different path or a familiar path to deepen.
Then we begin and we come to the middle. We discover every time that nothing ever really goes as planned. Sometimes, it’s close enough that we might not notice how far off the plan we are, but nothing really ever goest according to our laid out plan. That’s actually the beauty of intentional practice. We lay out a plan and then we have our own challenges (we can’t get out of our own way) and there are challenges tossed at us along the way. Give up chocolate and inevitably everyone is gifting you with chocolate or inviting you to the chocolate fondue party (fill-in your own “chocolate” blank).
There’s a sense as we continue the journey of tension. There are days of struggle and grappling. When it’s not going well, we seek ways to escape from what we chose. Maybe we find excuses or ways to tweak to make it easier. Sometimes, that’s what we’re meant to do: minor adjustments to more deeply settle in. There’s so much to consider and pay attention in the middle. The key is to pay attention and tweak, or persevere, with integrity and intention…love and kindness.
There are days of enjoyment and ease. Even when it’s good, we often try to escape. We start to think: I don’t deserve this, it shouldn’t be this easy, something bad is going to happen. We raise the bar…we’re very good at raising the bar. Oh, you got a promotion, what’s the next promotion? Oh, you got an A, you should take a harder class. You ran a marathon, your next one should have more hills.
Should and never good enough. It’s almost like there’s this subtle undercurrent that we shouldn’t enjoy our successes and the things we worked so hard for. PAUSE.
Which brings us to the last phase…the ending. The closing of the circle, the cycle. I like to think of this as the returning Home and the rest and recovery phase. A pause to settle into someplace safe and reflect on the experience. Giving one’s self the time for real transformation to happen.
Transformation doesn’t happen in the midst of the experiences of life. It happens during the time afterwards when it seeps in to our being and we truly begin to understand what we’ve learned. That knowledge and experience becomes deep wisdom. We become. That doesn’t happen in the middle of the storm or the desert. That happens…afterwards.
And we rush this one too. We skip to “what’s next?” We rush into the next beginning, often without a real solid plan, that comes out of the integration of previous experiences—this is why we repeat unhealthy cycles over and over again. We didn’t pause to let the lessons settle.
Or we try to rush back to what it was before, which is just plan impossible. We’ve grown whether we wanted to or not.
This phase is the one that really gives us the tools for learning who we are meant to be and what matters that we are meant to be doing. That one that most effectively leads us to the next choice toward what actually matters. This phase is the phase that builds real strength and courage and deepens the love.
We need a pause to integrate to lessons and experiences. We need the pause to bring clarity to the mess that was the experience. To sort through and get rid of the excess gunk and assimilate and deeply understand ourselves and others.
On a physical level, rest and recovery is when the tissues clean up and repair to become strong.
On a mental level, this phase gives our minds space to clear out the excess of the experience and hold on to the important stuff. To sort the memories. To acknowledge the accomplishments. To explore and study our mistakes. To explore and study our successes. We tend to stuff it all in our minds, get back to (often menial) work, and expect our minds to sort and function better than optimally…
We expect our spirits to sort and function optimally without giving pause. Deep, meaningful self care is checking in at the end of the day to see if our souls have caught up. That’s how you know you are Well.
Often the journeys are HARD. Take some time to congratulate yourself on both the successes and the failing forwards. To reset and rebuild from the experiences. The gift of lent is an opportunity to shed and to become, unfold, and bloom. That doesn’t happen without coming home, rooting down, and allowing.
Not sure this is true? Still believe that the doing and rushing and getting on to the next thing is what we’re meant to be doing? There are six weeks to the lenten journey. Six weeks in this time of intense practice between Ash Wednesday and Easter, that includes the big story of the Passion and Death. Six weeks.
There are seven weeks to Easter. The pause and the celebration. The Coming Home. Seven Sundays to reflect and integrate and come to the fullness and richness of the experience of doing.
No matter how hard it is right now, keep going. You got this. And when in doubt, call on your faith and your friends in faith. Those Soul Friends. Take a breath, have faith, and remember God (and breathe and trust however “God” is with you).