Letting Go During Lent

I don’t think I need to convince anyone when I state that our lives are filled, perhaps overfilled, with activity. Usually from the moment we awake to the moment our bodies drift to sleep, we are doing something. And many of those activities have formed our identity, reinforcing and energizing those activities.

One of the invitations of Lent is to let go of some of those activities in order to create new space within our lives — space for the potential of beauty, space to be alert to God and others, space to examine some of the shadowy parts of our inner lives.

I read a statement by Richard Rohr that might be helpful. He says, “We become free as we let go of our three primary energy centers: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem.” I think every person struggles in some way with these areas and Lent invites us to become a bit more aware and perhaps to learn how to let go.

The beauty of Lent is that it doesn’t demand, but invites. There is no obligation to participate in Lent. It doesn’t make God love us more nor does it necessarily make us better people. God loves us and is pleased with us whether we have a laser-focus during Lent or if we choose to “give up Lent during Lent.” But that same lavish, unending love is both the invitation to and the environment within which we engage in Lent.

To put it simply, Lent is Love. It is God’s love that invites us to Lent. It is God’s love in which we experience Lent. It is God’s love through which we may be transformed in Lent. And it is God’s love in which we may fail in Lent.

Recently, Bishop Todd Hunter likened Lent to the R&D department of a company. It’s a unique time each year where we can, with a childlike and an almost playful spirit, let go, make space, examine, and engage God regarding oft-hidden aspects of our lives within God’s deep and unchanging love for us.

So I would encourage you to hear and answer God’s invitation to let go and experience his love during Lent.


The Paint On Me

There’s a line from a Sister Hazel song that has haunted me since I first heard it. It goes:

“But the paint on me is beginning to dry and it’s not what I wanted to be.”

I’ve observed recently that as people grow older, we seem to become caricatures of our former selves. The paint on our inner lives, our character, dries and hardens almost to a point of exaggeration. Worriers worry. Complainers complain. Gossipers gossip. Ragers rage. Gluttons glut. Lusters lust. There’s almost no nuance left.

When I was a younger man, my life ambition was to be someone great for God. I wanted to do amazing things for God and change the world in his name. A couple more decades of life altered that goal. Ambition was replaced with a desire to become like Jesus, to have my inner world shaped into the likeness of Jesus’ inner being so good toward others would flow naturally.

I jokingly told a colleague that after my recent observation, I’ve lowered the bar to just not becoming a person that makes my wife and kids miserable when they’re around me.

I’m very aware of my character flaws. And the thought of those flaws permanently hardening to form “the real me” over the next few decades scares me to no end.

Reading Bishop Todd Hunter’s book, “Our Character At Work,” has reminded me again that who I’m becoming is far more important to God than anything I accomplish. Hunter writes regarding the context of leadership at work:

“What if my work is not the most important thing? What if I cannot be reduced to my work? Maybe from God’s view my work is not his work? Maybe I, the kind of person I become in carrying out my leadership, am his work.”

These words remind me that work, home, church, hobbies, relationships and all the other areas of life in which I find myself become the soil from which my character is formed for good or bad. In the midst of daily life I can choose to recognize Jesus’ brilliance into human nature and learn from him how to be like him. Or I can let my broken, hurt and corrupt nature continue to dry and harden into something I didn’t want to be.

Where Past And Present Overlap

Back in February 2017, I decided to become more intentional with my photography. So virtually every weekend, I would buy a cup of coffee and go to Finkbiner Park in Glendora, CA. I would walk around sipping my coffee and taking photos of compositions that caught my eye.

Why Finkbiner Park? This was a place that my kids visited frequently in their childhood and still holds a fondness in my heart and memories. I would regularly take them to this park and they would innocently play and laugh as children.

Now my kids are adults. They face adult struggles and stresses. They have adult dreams and goals. But when I stroll through Finkbiner Park, I can still see and hear them as little children. For a short time every weekend, I’m flooded with memories as my past and present overlap. I relax in all the thoughts and emotions that surface. And I take photos.

I never had the intention of making my weekly trips to Finkbiner Park a photography project. Ever since I took up photography, my goal has been to use this art form to force myself to see ordinary things from unique perspectives and hopefully see something beautiful that I and others would normally miss. But over the past year, I’ve amassed a couple hundred photos of the park and surrounding neighborhood. I used different cameras, lenses, photography styles, and editing processes to capture some of the beauty of this small local park.

I have uploaded all of my Finkbiner Park photos into a Flickr album if anyone is interested in looking at the images. There are some good photos, same mediocre ones and some bad ones. But, they all form a special visual memoir of this past year. I also post a lot of my photos on my Instagram account if you’re interested in following me there.

I think the image at the top of this post captures this experience. Time is like the gate that has closed upon a stage of my life very dear to me, a time when I watched my four children experience life with innocence and wonder and play. The playground in the background is like my memories of my children — colorful, dreamy and slowly fading out of focus.

I absolutely adore my adult children and who they’ve become. But, I painfully miss my little children and the life we shared together. And for a little sliver of time each weekend, I get to capture images of the present as my past swirls around me.


Fascinated With What Others Don’t See

I just viewed a beautiful photo and read some wonderful thoughts by Zeb Andrews. View his photo here. And here are his thoughts:

“I think one of the greatest gifts of photography is the ability to be fascinated by something as seemingly mundane as an empty parking lot. Ok, in all fairness it wasn’t simply an empty parking lot, but rather the reflection of light at night across the shiny surface of a wet, empty parking lot. But that is still fairly mundane. Not many people are sitting at home and think to themselves, “You know what I want to do tonight? It’s not dinner, it’s not club hopping, it’s empty parking lots.” Not many people, but I am willing to be a vast majority of the people who do think such things are photographers. Because that’s what photography does for you, it gives you the tools you need to notice such things and strengthened sense of creativity to appreciate them.

“I don’t know about you, but I really appreciate that. For me then, it isn’t even about being able to make an interesting photo of such things, but rather simply the noticing of them. I think this image is alright, I doubt I will ever print it, it’s interesting enough to post along with this short essay here on Flickr, so that counts for something. But the value that came from this experience was all in the experience itself, standing there in a big, open parking lot that was a few hours removed from being packed with cars and people, that was noisy with human activity and had become silent, the play of the different color temperatures of light across its reflective surface, and the speed at which the clouds were traveling on the stormy breeze through the skies above.

“All in all, it was a good moment to be in and one I doubt I would have ever found without the benefit of photography.”

What is true in photography is even more true in spiritual formation. I think we’re all aware that technology has reduced our culture’s awareness to simply swiping up, down, left or right to see the next new thing that tickles our senses.

But spiritual disciplines like silence, solitude, prayer, repentance, and fasting force us to stop and look. We cannot simply swipe left when confronted with personal or society’s brokenness. Nor can we simply swipe right into Christ’s likeness. God’s movement in our lives is not a social media feed through which we can casually scroll. Spiritual disciplines compel us to stop, see and become fascinated with the Spirit’s work like a photographer is fascinated by light, color, and reflections.


Simply Being God’s Presence

I mentioned last time that I want to live by a very simple focus. I want to have an intimate, trusting relationship with Jesus so that I can learn from him how to be like him so my life can somehow participate in his work in the world. I want to be his trusting, faithful apprentice; to be his ongoing presence doing his work in his world.

So what does this look like? Again, in an attempt to maintain a simple focus, I want to capture being Jesus’ apprentice in three ways.

First, I want to live thankfully in God’s presence in the present. In other words I want to learn from Jesus how to still my mind and feelings, which primarily live in the past and future, and bring them into submission to my heart, the core of who I am. From that place, free from the regrets and guilt of the past and the fear and anxiety of the future, I want to live thankfully in the present with the awareness of God’s presence in that moment.

Second, I want to see the unsurpassable worth of every person. I want to view people without labels and categories. I want to see them as God’s creation, each person worth the death and resurrection of God’s Son to forgive and free them from all destructive idolatry and sin and into their true human vocation as his image-bearers.

Third, I want to focus my life on doing good to and for others. Whether engaged with work, family, friends, strangers, or hobbies, I want all I do to produce good for others. I want my life to be God’s goodness to others.

That’s it. I want to be Jesus’ trusting and faithful apprentice — to be with him in order to become like him in order to work with him as his ongoing presence on earth.


The Easy Life

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting old or something else, but I find myself wanting to live by a very simple focus. I want to have an intimate trusting relationship with Jesus so that I can learn from him how to be like him so my life can somehow participate in his work in the world. I’m finding myself evaluating every aspect of my life through this simple goal. And eliminating things that get in the way of it.

I think about what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-29:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us into a life that is restful, easy and light. It’s a life in which we are “yoked” to him and learn from him how to be and live like him.

This is for what Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. Jesus lived to model and invite us into the restful, easy and light life of our true human vocation of reflecting God’s good, loving and wise character into our world for the good of others. Jesus died on the cross to vanquish the idols and forgive the sins that enslaved us and prevented us from entering into our human vocation. And Jesus was resurrected to launch God’s New Creation, this world renewed and transformed into a world fully managed by God.

Now we are God’s children, co-heirs with Jesus, saints who are set apart by God for our renewed human vocation, and God’s temple who are filled and empowered with God’s Spirit to learn from Jesus, to become like Jesus and to participate with Jesus.

I understand that there will be some difficulties and hardships associated with Jesus’ restful, easy and light life. But those difficulties originate from relearning how to do life. It’s tough letting go of a life managed by stress, anxiety, greed, lust and reputation. Part of us wants to let go, but another part wants to remain in control. Like learning a new skill, there’s the initial difficulty of training our mind and body to think and act in new ways.

And I understand some difficulties originate from the conflict of the various kingships out in the world. Every human being has his or her own kingship that they exercise in cooperation with or opposition to God’s kingship. And there are dark forces that, although they have ultimately lost, still try to cause as much damage as possible during this time they’re allowed to run amuck.

But bottom-line, Jesus’ life should be restful, easy and light. We have to take him at his word. And our church communities should be the place where this is discussed and taught. We should be learning how to follow Jesus into his restful, easy and light life of the human vocation. We should be learning the simple disciplines that make our lives increasingly present in God’s reality. We should be encouraged to grow in our intimate love and trust of Jesus’ invitation to enter into his life. We should be reimagining the Reality of God’s New Creation around us. We should be discussing ways to bring our family, our work, our hobbies, our resources, our time and our lives into restful, easy and light participation in Jesus’ work in the world for the good of others.


It Starts And Ends With Intimacy

As a young Christian, one of my favorite worship songs was Maranatha’s version of “As the Deer.” It’s basically Psalm 42 put to simple music:

“As the deer panteth for the water,

So my soul longeth after Thee.

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship Thee.

You alone are my strength and shield

To you alone may my spirit yield.

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship Thee.”

I have cherished memories of being alone with God, playing the chords on a piano, and singing my heart to him.

Ever since meeting Jesus, he’s been my heart’s deepest desire. And that intimacy and longing has been the core of over 30 years of journeying with him. Now as a not-so-young Christian, the same intimacy for Jesus is the driving force in my life.

And while intimacy with Jesus launched my journey with him, I think it has matured into much more.

Recently, I read a short post by Bishop Todd Hunter describing the purpose of his parish, Holy Trinity Church. He wrote that Holy Trinity Church “is engaged in a straightforward and plain journey: we seek intimacy with Jesus and transformation into his likeness, becoming his cooperative friends… for the sake of others.”

That simple sentence captures the goal of intimacy with Jesus — a personal and communal vocation of spiritual formation into God’s royal priesthood for the sake of others. This is the calling of God’s people, His Body — to be a community of people gripped by deep intimacy with Jesus so that it transforms us into his likeness so we can be like him, live like him and work with him for the sake of everyone around us.

This is why the local parish exists. And all of its theology, liturgy, sacraments, programs, administration, and other aspects of its life must direct its members toward this singular goal — a transforming, loving, others-centered intimacy with Jesus.

But the vocation only makes sense when it’s first and foremost fueled by deep intimacy with Jesus. That’s where it starts and that’s where it ends. And that’s what gives everything in between its shape and meaning.