The liturgical season of Lent is now over, and we’re in the extended season of Easter (it lasts until Pentecost, which this year is Sunday, May 28).
During Lent, I wrote about building awareness and attentiveness with the goal of developing our relationship with God.
These practices of staying awake and noticing God’s grace each day can gradually but steadily shift our perspective on life. Although I can’t maintain this perspective all the time, I hope to have more moments when I deeply see and feel the mystery of life as it unfolds new each day. The theologian Frederick Buechner beautifully describes this engagement with life:
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
Our Lenten journey of metanoia has focused on developing our ability to stay awake and attentive to God. We’ve focused on our side of this relationship. I haven’t mentioned another side to this relationship that is important to remember. God always is and always has been attentive to us! God didn’t create the world and then step back to observe what happens from a distance. Even when we’re not paying attention, God continues to be in relationship with us and attentive to us. Jesus tells us that God pays attention to the sparrows, and we are of more value to God. Every hair on our heads is counted. (Mt 10:29-31).
I was reminded of this as I reflected on my Lenten experience. I picked a specific book and set of reflections to do each evening during Lent. But I quickly discovered that it wasn’t a good fit for me. The book wasn’t what I expected, and the reflections were inconvenient to access when I wasn’t at my computer. So although I did other spontaneous things for Lent, I didn’t do what I had planned. But as I reflected on my experience, I realized I was graced with some important insights during Lent. And although I had initiated the process of being open to God, the rest happened by God reaching out to me – not by me following a particular plan.
So, although we have to do our best, it’s not all up to us. Even though my ability to pay attention in my everyday life comes and goes, I can trust that God is always there, paying attention to me. And if God is that attentive to what is happening in my life, maybe my life deserves more of my attention too.
Here’s a recap of the attentiveness themes I’ve written about during Lent. If a topic continues to resonate with you, you may want to return to it and reflect further.
Staying Awake During Lent (2/15/23)
I picked “staying awake” as my theme for Lent. I’m treating this as a journey of metanoia (transformative change and conversion). The emphasis is on staying awake with my eyes, ears, and heart to be more attentive to the presence of God in my everyday life and living a life consistent with my true, authentic self.
Staying Attentive to How We Spend Our Time (2/22/23)
Ash Wednesday reminds us that life is short and we don’t have forever to do what is important to us. There’s an inevitable tension between the tasks that are urgent and the things that are important. Our spiritual growth might be important but not urgent, and we may need to dedicate more time to this.
Choosing Discomfort (3/1/23)
As we change our habits and lives to be more attentive, there will be discomfort. We must learn to be ok with some discomfort if we want our lives to change. Lent gives us an opportunity to lean into discomfort as part of an intentional practice.
Savoring Our Moments (3/8/23)
Savoring is a practice that helps us stay awake to the blessings in our lives. We tend to be more comfortable with doing something rather than just letting our experiences soak into our senses. When we practice savoring, we pay attention to what is happening and use our senses to get the maximum joy from our experiences.
Listening to God (3/15/23)
God might be trying to catch our attention, but listening can sometimes be tricky. In the gospels, Jesus reminds us (repeatedly!), “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” We often miss hearing what God is saying because the message may not come in the form we want or expect, or we’re too distracted to listen.
Listening to Your Life (3/23/23)
Parker Palmer offers insight into what it means to “let our lives speak.” We don’t have to pretend to be someone more noble or virtuous than who we really are. When we pursue our true inner vocation, our gifts renew as we give them away.
Once we learn to listen to God, the next step is trusting God. We may not be able to see the entire path when we’re called to do something – often, we can only see the next right step – which we must take in trust. We’re quick to judge everything that happens to us as good or bad. The parable of the Chinese farmer illustrates that when life doesn’t unfold according to our plan, it may lead to blessings that are as good or better than we had hoped.
Staying Awake with Suffering? (4/5/23)
There are no satisfying answers to why God allows suffering. I believe God doesn’t cause our suffering but is always there with us. And although I wouldn’t ever say it’s worth the pain and suffering, sometimes something good does come from it.
Darkness To Light (4/12/23)
The Easter Vigil liturgy allows us to experience, in a sensory way, the Easter message of light triumphing over darkness.
Suggestions for Further Reflection
Mindfully review what you did for Lent and assess how well it worked for you. If you didn’t do as much as planned, that’s ok! I didn’t do what I had planned. This is not a reason to judge yourself but an opportunity to understand yourself better and maybe even see if God surprised you in some way.
- Are there any practices or insights from this season of Lent that you found especially helpful?
- Is there a practice that you’d like to continue? How will you remember to do this? Be specific about exactly what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. Having a particular plan and way to remind yourself of this intention helps ensure that it won’t be forgotten as the realities and busyness of life intrude. (I’m going to continue the savoring practice as much as possible. I’ll ask a friend I see weekly to remind me and help me savor our experiences together. You can also enlist help, set a reminder on your phone, or create a recurring appointment on your calendar.)
- If you didn’t do what you had planned for Lent, maybe you did something else that ended up being just what you needed. Looking back, were there unexpected graces/insights/changes you can now see?
God of light and love – although I may not have done all I had planned for Lent, You see my heart and know I was sincere about those intentions. Help me recognize that whatever I did was enough for this season of my life. Reassure me that You continue reaching out to me when I desire to know You better. I don’t always have to be doing something; sometimes, the desire is enough.
I believe You respond to each step (no matter how small) that I take toward You. As I reflect on my Lenten journey, let me see how You have responded to my intentions, even though I might have missed seeing it in the moment. Don’t let my regrets about not doing exactly what I planned interfere with me seeing unexpected graces. Help me have enough trust to take the next step on whatever path You lead me.
I’m trying to decide if your prayers are the best part of your blog. “Best” is the wrong word. But certainly special. I admire your ability to craft such insightful and reflective requests for God’s grace, Tacky.
Thanks! Sometimes they flow easily; other times, I have to work on them for a long time. It’s a challenge to say something meaningful in just a few sentences!
you clearly invested your entire self in listening to God and then sharing with us and prodding us a tiny bit to make Lent a richer experience with God. Thank you!!
I sometimes wish the Church hadn’t created such a strong demarcation for Lent (though I see the theory behind it) – it seems to create apprehension as Lent approaches and Lenten practices aren’t always carried forward once Easter arrives and Ordinary Time resumes. I’m going to try to keep Staying Awake and asking God to keep transforming me in ways I cant yet imagine as post-Lent 2023 unfolds…
Interesting point about the sharp demarcation of Lent. I’m seeing Eastertide as the transition this year – a time to focus on the possibilities of resurrection/transformation in our lives inspired by the change within the apostles that transformed the rest of their lives (even more than when Jesus was with them!)
I don’t always have to be doing something as desire sometimes can be enough. Being retired and going through some health issues my routines gave changed dramatically. My desires are in the forefront and feeling like I should be doing more can make me think I’m wasting time. Reading your writings helps me see my life in a different perspective. In this new phase of my life I’m enjoying quiet time and no longer think it is a waste. Deb
That’s a really big shift! And not an easy one either. Even though your retirement may not be what you expected, it sounds like you’re figuring out how to make it meaningful.