Le(n)t go and Le(n)t God

This Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or putting some restriction on myself equally as violent and unpleasant as “no chocolate ever!” (the horror–just personally), I will instead, as Kayla McClurg from Inward/Outward puts it, “[follow] my deeper intuition to embrace the disciplines that will help me ‘let go and let God.'”

Letting go. Letting go not as a static, one-time event that leaves me free from all future suffering and self-inflicted misery but as a constant cycle of moving in and out of conflicting emotions. It is a process of embracing our multitudes (“Do I contradict myself? Very well then; I contradict myself–I am large, I contain multitudes.” -Walt Whitman) and releasing old ways of being, over and over again. It is falling down and getting back up, always in a spirit of humility that says, “I trust you, God–I trust that I am loved and that You’ve got this.”

Last Thursday night, our community’s weekly spirituality night, Hillary began leading our Lenten study for the month of March. During the meeting, Hillary shared the following words from Kayla McClurg (love her and highly recommend exploring Inward/Outward) when talking about going inward towards our deep, dark places in the season of Lent: “All of us will face such times, when the crowded life must be left behind, when we must peer into the dark well of our own need, our lust for what we do not have, our weariness with what we do have, our temptation to do and be and possess far beyond our capacity, beyond God’s callings for us. Maybe our temptation is to rise high above our plain existence, or maybe we are scrambling to win last place. Neither is the humble path. Kneeling in secret on stones and barbed wire will not prove our devotion.” The words hit me hard–I knew it would be difficult for me to speak when we went around the circle to share our Lenten intentions and practices (anticipated by reading the thoughtfully assembled handout from my girl Hill). The words in bold felt like they were directly aimed at me, a marker of good writing, of universal truth. She clearly spoke with personal experience and her vulnerability was a gift–it caused me to reflect on what was stirring in my soul.

I’m tired of being tired of my worn out ways of being. I’ve been falling down a lot lately. This seems to be expected if you’re doing relationships with a hefty amount of vulnerability. I’ve been falling down and trying to pick myself back up–relying on self-knowledge and a determination to “BE BETTER!” In retrospect, I realize this is where I was getting stuck. I’m addicted to being in control. My temptation “to do and be possess far beyond [my] capacity” was plunging me into darkness every time. I am weary with myself and I haven’t been cutting myself much slack. St. Therese of Lisieux once wisely said, “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” This particular idea of acceptance, of accepting being displeasing in any way, proves difficult for me to bear. But I know what it looks like on the other side of all my self-deprecating self-talk, I’ve tasted the freedom, and I long to stay there. The problem is I’ve been relying on myself–coaching myself through it with discipline and knowledge. Here’s the thing. Knowledge informs my faith but it does not precede it. Feeling God’s love and letting Him pull me back up in humility is what makes my faith feel full and expansive. This is when I feel like I can breathe, finally offered space to love myself and the people around me. It’s an easy hole to fall in, and I’m learning to circumvent it more often, but it’s God who gets down in the hole with me, who offers his shoulders for me to stand on in order to crawl my way out. Maybe one day I’ll find a new path altogether–one without so many holes. Maybe come Easter morning there will be life anew.

Aside from my own played-out storytelling, I’m also trying to let go of controlling other people’s stories about me–whatever those may be… because how do I really know? It makes sense why I do it though–if I want so badly to control my own feelings, to distort them into something shinier and therefore more bearable, then of course, of course, I want to control other people’s thoughts and feelings about me. Because believing what they think is so much easier than figuring out what I think. For so long I’ve let other people define who I am, unable to fully grasp my own understanding of myself. The kaleidoscope of feelings constantly shifting inside of me made it hard to get a firm hold on my sense of self. Once I realized that I am not my feelings but instead a soul who feels feelings, I was able to start coming home to myself. It was a simple yet profound discovery and it changed everything. Something else that profoundly influenced me was reading Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved. Reading his words, I was reaffirmed in my identity as Beloved. When I can hold onto this core truth and distance myself from my feelings, which can be so easily swayed by outside forces, I am able to stay clear and grounded. Again, it’s a process of falling down and getting back up. It’s a lifelong practice. But I’m trying to let go of needing outside affirmation and instead turning inward to receive the Love that has always existed. This is who I am. This is who we all are.

This Lent, along with letting go, I’m taking up. 1) I’m taking up the daily practice of writing down the things that delighted me throughout the day. Mary Oliver says the instructions to living a life are to pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it. I pray to have the eyes to see and ears to hear this Lent–cries of the hungry calling out for justice, but also the beauty that puts itself in my way moment by moment. I don’t want to miss the beauty always searching for what’s missing. I want to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving and wonder. 2) I’m taking up radical self-compassion. The practice of being kind to myself in difficult emotions. 3) I’m taking up reading a daily devotional. For Lent, I am reading Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr. They are short reflections for Lent that include a piece of scripture and a “starter prayer” of sorts to get the pen flowing. I’ve learned a lot in the darkness of these early mornings, accompanied by just a book, pen, journal, and Bible. 4) I’m taking up running/yoga/park-walking during the weekdays. I’m taking up getting in touch with my body by moving it and listening to it.

So there you have it. My Lenten longings and laments. In this moment, I find myself in a space between grieving who I thought I was, the story I’ve always told myself, and stretching toward who God wants me to be–maybe who I was all along. Wherever you are and whatever story you’ve been telling yourself, hear me when I say you are precious and loved. Let that be where you start.

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” -Mary Oliver

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