More Than I Bargained For: Lent

I won’t lie–as Lent began I still didn’t know what I would fast from throughout this season of Lent.

I thought about the things I had given up in the past–anywhere from the selfishly motivated giving up of sweets (that was more of a diet disguised as a religious discipline) to the far more difficult giving up of meat.

Then I contemplated the spiritual disciplines I had adopted in past years. I had committed to reading the Bible in its entirety, wrote a devotion every day, and carved out time for dedicated prayer and meditation.

These were all good options, but I didn’t know what I really wanted to focus on over these few weeks and so I settled on dedicating myself to list to God in these days. It was a little bit of a cop-out. It was my way of saying that I had not done the preparation work I needed to do and would let God do all the heavy lifting.

I had not bargained for my whole life to be turned upside down!

For months I had been wondering how we could expand the ministries of our church to include people beyond our walls. We live in a world that is hyper-connected and yet, socially disconnected at the same time. How do we extend to those who don’t feel they belong to our social group but live right next door?

The email from our Bishop forced me to stop wondering about this is to start doing. For at least two weeks all United Methodist Churches are to be closed in an effort to do our part to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Over night I had to find ways to keep my faith community together, even as we are skattered and isolated. There was no more room for excuses. I could no longer blame the age or the technology gap any longer. I went from polishing a traditional sermon to frantically figuring out how I could bring my people together in a way that would make room for all of them.

I landed on Zoom Cloud Meetings, because not only can those of us with the technology video conference, there is a call-in option for those who do not have access to that technology. Everyone who is willing can participate!

But God’s been drawing me out of complacency in other ways, too.

I’m an extreme introvert. You would think that would make this whole social-distancing thing easier. In some ways it does–but when you are a pastor, you have to continue to minsiter to your flock. That means, in an age of limited contact, I have to reach out by telephone.

Do you have any idea how much the average introvert hates telephones?

We want real connection–not something where we can’t see the body language of the person we’re talking to. The awkward silences–the conversational missteps as we accidently talk over each other–all those things that make a telephone conversation feel different from a face-to-face conversation.

And so, this introvert has spent more time on a telephone this week than she did in the entirity of last year.

When the world shifts, we have to shift, too.

Every day has been a new opportunity to learn how we can be in ministry with out community, even when our community is being encouraged to stand six feet apart.

Our church has launched a shopping assistance program, so that those who are in vulnerable populations don’t have to go out in public. We’ve started connecting with each other with a more spiritual deliberations wheres just a few weeks ago we were content to connect when we bumped into each other in our day-to-day lives.

We’ve had to rethink what worship looks like. What a Sunday School class is. Who our neighbors are. How we share the Good News…

God saw my pre-Lent laziness and heard my challenge: You tell me what you want me to do.

God answered. Boy, did God answer.

It was more than I bargained for… but having our lives completely altered, giving up all the things that feel familiar and root us to this world… this is what Lent is about.

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