Wading into Lent

Last week, I noted that the season of Lent was beginning on Ash Wednesday. The season is an intentionally reflective time of focusing on one’s current life, hopefully gaining fresh insight into what drives you, areas of needed attention, and noting those things that might hold you back from being the person you want to be.

A number of you have written to me telling me of your past Lents and your hopes for this coming season. If you did not make the Ash Wednesday starting mark, it’s not to late to begin. In fact, it’s never too late or “out of season” to be reflective. It’s generally the starting question I ask those who come to me for therapy or coaching: how are you doing?

In fact, self awareness is the hallmark of what we call Emotional Intelligence. It’s that acute sense of what makes you tick, both the positive motivations and the negative drivers that, some times, get in your way. The key word here is AWARENESS, that is, you know yourself. This allows you to move more mindfully into relationships, both in your personal life and at work. You know, deep down, what you you want, what you need, what you can tolerate, and what you can’t. That self knowledge grants you the ability to make some choices in terms of how you will show up in certain situations and give you some options. Options are good, by the way, in that it frees you to make some choices, some decisions about what you are going to do, or not do. It’s been said that this is the human distinctive: to decide.

Another part of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand the other person, what their needs are and how they are feeling. I have always liked the colloquial term “get”. She “gets’ me, implies that this person miraculously understands, “gets”, my quirky way of being. When I am with a person who truly gets me, it frees me to be more of my self, less guarded in how I present. I am not using up my limited energy to protect myself so I can give my energy to connecting. It is a good thing to be understood.

The other part of Emotional Intelligence that is good thing is perspective taking. It’s the ability of a person to “imagine” their way into the specific perspective of others. It is the ability to transcend our natural self-centered point of view and to extend our consciousness to take the other’s perspective into account. This is critical in the mind of the leader who is tasked with making decisions that affect others and their lives. We have found that people, with practice, can improve this art of perspective taking by intentionally practicing it and checking it out as to how accurate they are in their assessment.

Lent can be a good time to check in on this thing called Emotional Intelligence.

How aware are you of your your own motivations, positive as well as negative? How much time do you you invest in growing this part of your self?

How well are you able to take the perspective of those that are around you, in your personal life, in your work, in your social setting? How often do you go out of your way to think about others? Do you ever check out if your perceptions are accurate? How often do you uncritically assume that the way you feel about things are the way others MUST feel as well?

As I suggested, a good way to invest some time during this Lent is to journal each day.

You can write about your own feelings each day, noting how your moods and feeling fluctuate. Are you able to note connections with certain activities with specific changes in mood? i have noted that my mood and good feelings are elevated when I finish writing each day. I am full of energy, feeling peculiarly productive. With this knowledge, I have begun to schedule certain things immediately following my writing times.

You can also reflect on certain encounters that you have with other people. It may be a close relationship that feels constrained, reflecting on why you think that is,. From your perspective, as well as from the perspective of “the other”, it is often productive to imagine the other’s world view in that moment. And the real moment of insight might come if and when you check out that wondering with this “other”. Am I getting this correctly? is always a good place to start.

Lent provides a good time to focus on our self awareness as well as how we are relating to others. I am writing this on Ash Wednesday, and was drawn into the powerful words of the Book of Common Prayer, which can jump start this time of focus. Here’s how I experience this intentional time.

As one enters into the deep waters of Lent, one confesses, along with the other folks gathered, that you have fallen short, the Greek word “amartia”, It’s the word used in the New Testament as “sin”. When I was young, sin was comprised of a list of things i should NOT be doing….bad things. My South of God Christians gave me a whole list of stuff I shouldn’t do, mostly pleasures of the flesh! Nowadays, as I am South of Sixty, my thought of sin is more like the original sense, falling short of what God wants me to be, and what I want to be.

On Ash Wednesday, the Church offers a Litany of Penitence that helps you review and reflect of how we fall short:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness, the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in our daily life and work.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.

Well, that pretty well covers the waterfront of my sinfulness….but wait, there’s more!

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us.

Damn, that pretty much covers it all for me. I prefer the generic category of sin….yeah, I am not all I want to be. Easy enough for me to admit that and fade my humility. But my throat catches on a few words that seem to come a bit closer to the bone of truth::

Contempt, I don’t give you value if you aren’t like me or agree with me.

Patience. I want it NOW. Right now.

Comfort. Man, comfort is my special sin. Luckily, I found a group, a Church, that is like me!

Blind. It’s just easier to look away, to not see the other in need.

All of this sin stuff is enough to get you down. But that is not the intent of Ash Wednesday or Lent. Rather, It is to turn you around, To turn you around from your self-centeredness to an awareness of others, this creation we share, and our common Creator. This is what was the original concept of human being, that is, essentially connected to God and neighbor. In the Hebrew faith of Jesus and in those who chose to follow his way of being in the world, it’s called being in covenant, in relationship.

The purpose of Lent is to focus us on that relationship. To God, and to neighbor. It is intended to help us to do that better so that we will experience something that our Creator intended for us at the very outset: JOY. This is the overwhelmingly surprise for many folks, the Good News, that God’s intent is for our joy, our happiness in being. God desires us to be happy.

And the existential question that is posed for you when you wade into these waters of Lent is a simple one: How’s that working out for you?

The gift of Lent is a time of focus. a time to look deeply within. And, it is a time to look around at how you relate to others. It is intended to prompt a commitment to do better, to become a better person in the community of other people. To experience that joy.

The classic response to a call to becoming all that God wants you to be is that of an affirmative pronouncement of your decision, your choice, your intent. I WILL, you say, with a firm commitment to do just that.

But then there is a powerful mark, a mere, but profound comma. The comma is followed by the necessary and appropriate humility that acknowledges our limitation, our fallibility, our tendency to not follow through. The comma announces that for us to be truthful in our commitment in this moment. I will, with God’s help.

So, in this moment of decision, I am asking you if you want to enter into this season of Lent, to wade into the waters of self-reflection, to cleanse your soul with clarity, to refresh your spirit of intent, and to emerge as a renewed person of faith?

And my answer, and the answer of generations has been: I will, with God’s help.

Well? How about you? How will you use this wild and precious time of Lent?

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