What I gave up for Lent

I’m no expert on Lent, meaning I can’t give you the history of when and why, but I did grow up observing the practice of giving something up for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Lent allows us to remember the sacrifice Jesus gave for us by sacrificing something in our own lives. When I was young I picked chewing gum because it wasn’t that difficult to give up. I did this for 6 years in a row.

For the last few years I have not participated in Lent simply because I had nothing I felt like I needed to give up. After a failed attempt at cutting out ice cream, only to gorge myself on other sweet treats, I felt abstaining was a better option. My faith is based on relationship, not hollow rules and traditions. Why would Lent be an exception? I felt good in this decision year after year, especially when one year a roommate bragged about how easy it was for her to give up sugar while she poured a glob of honey onto a strawberry.

Which leads me to now, the year I gave up something for real. This year I chose to participate in Lent because my soul and my habits needed a recalibration. Somewhere between endless free time and desperation I fell into the pit of hours of binge watching to the point of losing almost all of my energy. The red flag for me was when it took me just over a week to get to season 5 on 2 separate shows. Not a proud moment, but the moment I said, “I have a problem.”

What do I mean by recalibrate? I just felt off. I’ve been in a relationship with Jesus for 12 years; We’re at the point when I can just sense something before he says something – we’re that close. After 6 hours of one show I just felt… gross. I would look up and notice the sun had set and I felt like I wasted my day (that had started at 11 am). And I would do that for 3 and 4 days in a row. I would sit for 20 minutes to kind of listen to God, maybe read my Bible (*gasp* I know), and maybe pray a quick sentence for someone. Then I would rush to catch up on Liz Lemon’s life, only to sit there through 8 episodes before moving again.

Basically, I’m using Lent as my intervention to focus back on Jesus. My initial reaction was to give up Netflix completely, but I realized if I was doing something for Jesus I wanted to get his input. So I prayed and asked him what he wanted me to give up. “Netflix is not the issue – binge watching is. I want you to focus on the root,” he responded. So that’s what I’ve given up – binge watching.

What does this look like? It looks like limiting myself to 1 episode of 1 show per day. So if I watch the latest episode of Survivor today, I have to wait until tomorrow to watch Leslie Knope get married. At first, this was SUPER difficult. It felt like torture because I had so many hours to fill in a day. But this wasn’t meant to be easy like pausing my gum addiction. It was meant to prioritize my time back on Jesus – be it reading, writing, praying, meditating, coloring, or exploring. A week went by and I rediscovered books. I learned my new library system is awesome and I can listen to a book a lot faster than I can read one. It’s also more fun when the author reads it, because it’s like they’re talking directly to you.

After two weeks I felt like more like myself, as if I had been a deflated version of myself prior and the Holy Spirit breathed life back into my being. It helps I finally have a job to go to (not every day), but I’ve also changed my priorities that I can go several days without watching any episodes. Plus, in the last month I have read/listened to 8 books. Clearly I still have a lot of time on my hands, but now I use it for good instead of wasting it.

Hope found in lyrics

Have you ever listened to a song on repeat, until the lyrics are forever burned into all corners of your brain? I can listen to a song on repeat for days and weeks on end. When the world moved on from Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” I made it my ringtone, to ensure no one around me would forget the gold that this song is. I choose songs based on their lyrics, their beat, or how they make me feel. Sometimes I will listen to a song until the emotion (such as sadness or anger) has subsided, as if with each repeat a little more emotion has escaped me.

In times of deep sorrow and big questions I am somehow always brought back to Gungor’s “Beautiful Things.” It starts with the lyrics

all this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change
at all

In that place, I deeply connect with these lyrics. It’s as if someone else has joined me in the pit of confusion, giving words to my feelings. But the lyrics don’t allow me to stay there – they remind me to look up and remember hope.

all around
hope is springing from this old ground
out of chaos life is being found
in you
you make beautiful things
you make beautiful things out of the dust
you make beautiful things
you make beautiful things out of us

 

The first time I listened to this song on repeat I was sitting in an airport, trying to drown out the noise around me and focus my thoughts from the previous 48 hours. 6 years ago I felt defeated and unsure what to do next. I had flown from Reno, NV to Kansas City, MO to meet a missions team moving to France and decide if I was a good fit. It was a 5 year commitment, but I was desperate to be outside of the U.S. I thought desperation could eventually overpower my general dislike for most French people and the French language. Maybe I could change once I was there? Confronted with a team of 5 people genuinely in love with all things France it was clear I wasn’t a good fit.

I remember sitting at a large table in a small room, talking with the board and new CEO of the organization, all of us aware I wasn’t going to France but uneasy how to start that conversation. It was suggested I begin discipleship under someone trusted in my church, and maybe travel for longer than two weeks before committing to five years.

So there I am, at the airport, sad to be stuck in the States without a clear plan and the intimidating assignment of asking someone to disciple me. It felt like I was sent back to square-one. I put on my headphones and selected a premade mix of songs to try to make myself feel better. Slowly, the lyrics from Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” started to play.

I listened to that one song, on repeat, for my entire 6 hour flight. I didn’t gain answers, but I felt ok to be sad and reminded not to give up. It took me 2 weeks to muster the courage to ask Kelly to disciple me. She is a powerhouse of a woman – confident in the Lord and how the Lord made her, not afraid to take charge or call you out on your crap. I spent 2 years working with her – studying and memorizing scripture, reading so many books on all things Christianity and missions, and being challenged in my thinking of myself and the world. She was the one who told me to just leave and go on a missions trip already. Fast forward to my 11 month trip with the World Race, ultimately working for that organization for 2.5 years.

When things fell through after moving to WA, I again stumbled across this song. I was reminded of how things worked out for the best, despite being vastly different from the story I had written for myself. I felt sad, but I felt hope for the unknown. I may have taken 2 steps back instead of 2 steps forward. I may be rerouting my life currently, but I’m also redefining happiness and finding newfound freedom. What do you do when life pushes you down like a bully in the sandbox?

 

you make beautiful things out of the dust
you make beautiful things
you make beautiful things out of us