Thursday, February 7

Failing Lent Before it Begins

The disappointing news pounced on me after the hundredth time the six-year-old son failed to listen, failed to keep his hands to himself, failed to stop asking the question that had elicited a "no."  So, when it pounced I smacked it back hard, in no mood for any more obstinance.

However, as I recoiled into the phone held to my ear I smacked my husband, on the other end, in the process.

The disappointing news was really an honest mistake?  Error?   What do you call it when one intends to follow through on a task in a timely fashion only to find out the timeline moved underneath him and now you both were out several hundred dollars?

Unfortunate?  Irritating?  Intolerable?

Or do you call it an invitation to the feet of God?  The very invitation you've been asking him to deliver.

[I chose the former to my great shame.]

Do you mumble under your breath that now you won't be able to put gas in the car?

Or do you whisper a prayer of thanks for the chance to see something good and strong and new arise from your lips and your life?

[repeat above]

This year's Lenten fast, only the second of my life, will test me.  I inherited from my mother the wonderful gift of being able to make money come out of a rock.  I did not, however, inherit its counterpart known as humble generosity.  I try.  But it's not second nature quite yet.   Detachment is something else to move toward: holding things more loosely so I can give them freely.  This sweet spot we live in, it can't last forever.  I must be able to hold everything out and say, "Do what you will.  It's yours."

This season I determined that walking a bit closer to the edge of poverty just might be the place I was being pushed to.  I committed.  I didn't just commit myself though, I committed my family.  For forty days we were going to live on 75% of our income and give away the rest.  Give it away.  25% of our income to friends in India who know where to alleviate someone's poverty.  That would be the rewarding part.  Living on 75%, that would be the lengthening.

We are a family of five on a single income.  And not just any income -- we live on tithes. The gravity of this is not lost on me.  We manage this love gift with a lean red pen.  Having opted out of social security years ago we diligently save for retirement.  We set a chunk of money aside for everything each month:  insurance, the mortgage, sewer bills, vacation, Christmas, taxes and all the rest.  We don't waste.  We've learned how not to want.  How was I going to give so much?

But the point wasn't to know how to do it.  The point was just to do it and wait on God to show me the way. 

Still I prepared.  I crunched the numbers.  I figured out how to save on food: cooking once and eating twice.  I took our February paycheck to pay off our credit card in order to enter Lent debt free.  This meant that we began our Lenten practice of living closer to poverty two weeks early because after I mailed that big fat payment I had $95 left to spare for two weeks:  gas for the cars + a field trip + classes for the boys + stamps to mail off our tax packet + more milk and bananas = not enough already.

And today my partner in life called and said the timeline shifted and a withdrawal couldn't be stopped and a matching gift to our retirement would have to wait another month.  And I flipped through the check register in my head and knew that we'd now begin Lent in the hole.  I was angry because it had not been according to my plan.  Humility, generosity and detachment stood on the other side of a vast chasm carved there by my own self love, out of my reach.  Lent was going to push me hard toward God.

Here is what Lent is not:
Lent is not a chance for us to show God what great brilliance and resolve we have.
Lent is not planned so heavily that no room is left to see God move.
Lent is not maneuvered on our own power and skill.
Lent is not refusing to trust when our margin gets squeezed.
Lent is not NOT falling at the feet of God -- at his invitation, to our great challenge.

What have I really given up if I've planned out my scarcity ahead of time and provided for it too?  I'm doing my own giving and my own taking away.  I'm playing the role of God.

Here it is seven days out from the start and I've already tripped over myself on my way to look for God.

The good news is, there's a lot of room for growth.  Amen.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  Luke 21:1-4

{Giving Out of Poverty.  Lent 2013}

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