Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Only a week into Lent, I'm reconsidering my choice for this year's "give something up" commitment. Not because restricting my days-off reading to 200 pages is so tough: I've only had one Saturday and Sunday to test that, and filling their extra hours wasn't all that hard. Saturday, with two social events, actually kept me up until midnight finishing 200 pages!

That's the problem. Without the option of "making up" for reading time lost on work days, I find myself pushing too hard to do the same 200 pages every day. So far I've been over an hour late to bed on 4 nights; neglected about half a day's worth of work; and sat through an Ash Wednesday service with heart pumping palpably and mind fixed on "will I have time to finish that magazine after I get out of here?" Not exactly a Christ-centered mindset, especially since most of the reading isn't even explicitly Christian. Not that I'd be any less likely to rush through if it were. What I should give up for Lent--if not for life--is the idea of permanently keeping up the daily breakneck reading speed of college days, when other responsibilities were fewer and my eyes younger.

Not that it was ever a good idea to get into the habit of thinking in overregimented terms: "I must read a complete book every day." "I must complete my reading list by December 31." "I must finish this chapter by 10:00--if I take until 10:01, I'll be struck by the lightning bolt of judgment." No wonder I get so testy at interruptions.

Many of us, if we're honest, would choose neat, tidy, predictable lives and a neat, tidy, predictable God. Although Christians, we're spiritual kin to the American Muslim who, asked why he'd abandoned his Baptist upbringing to embrace Islam, replied that Islam was everything he'd always wanted religion to be: orderly, logical, and defining clearly what to do when. What he didn't seem to realize--what we too often fail to realize--is that "how we want things to be" is a pretty weak standard for judging what is.

A better attitude to emulate would be that of Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen, who said, "My whole life I've been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered the interruptions were my work." God isn't really interested in our ability to make plans and carry them out, even if those plans seem to be for His glory. What He wants to see in us is a humility that drops everything else, without complaining, whenever He calls our attention to a need of the moment. Regimentation is the mark of legalism; spontaneity is the mark of a Christlike heart. Even if it means realizing our "spiritual discipline" plans aren't God's plans for us.

I think I'll change my Lent commitment to "give up counting pages, and give up an hour's worth of available reading time every day, turning that time to worship and prayer."

As the traveler paused in his journey
To help an injured man,
I stumble each day on some needy
Who were not part of my plan.
Will I pause in my work, to help them,
And let God's love shine through,
Or go on about my own business,
Having "other things to do"?

When our plans fail to go as we'd hoped for,
When things turn stalled or wrong,
Will we take on Christ's godly patience
And see things through with a song,
Or think only of our convenience
And grumble our way through,
As though we were gods of our own lives,
With important things to do?

We make plans for the lives we wish for,
But God knows what is best,
And He sends us each interruption;
From Him comes each trial or test.
When His wisdom guides our responses
To needs that still break through,
Then we truly walk in Christ's footsteps:
For we have God's work to do!

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