This week marked the start of Lent, a season in the Church where Christians around the world fast, give up, relinquish sacrifice, and empty their souls in order to experience the filling of God. The Church begins this 40 day season with a marking of ashes on the people’s foreheads in a deeply symbolic and spiritual gesture to show and remind we are but dust. This life is a moment, a breath, a sigh to some degree and, if not intentional, passes us by without a backwards glance.
Have you ever experienced a giving up, a fasting before? With foods, the pangs of hunger or cravings of sugar consume your thoughts, taking days to ignore. With alcohol, the desire for that sip pulls at your taste buds and the Martinelli’s isn’t quite cutting it. Social media? You find yourself waiting in line, fingers itching to press the blue *f button to discover all you had missed within the last few days.
When you give up or fast something that is a habitual part of your daily life, at first your mind is consumed by what you have given up. It’s difficult to think about anything else when there’s a break in your busy mind. And while it might get easier over time, the practice of fasting will still bombard your senses and remind you of what you don’t have. It is during moments like this you breathe deeply, you shift your weight, you stretch your arms over your head and sigh and invite God to fill the empty places in your soul.
This practice of Lent comes with high hopes, with lofty ideas and strong beliefs but as a mom I find my commitments dashed on the rocks of busy. I barely take a moment to be still, to find quiet and rest for my soul. If I give up Facebook (my stay-at-home-mom-window to the outside world), if I give up shopping, if I give up lunch, if I give up chocolate or alcohol or sugar, I will fail. If I vow to pray the Daily Office or if I vow to spend 20 minutes a day in nature or daily craft with my children, I will fail. But I will try. I will commit again this year to daily practice, emptying myself to know the filling of God.
Being a mom makes all of life unpredictable and wild. My son woke up Wednesday morning sweaty from fever and all night coughing and I awoke lacking energy from a restless, worried-for-my-boy sleep. We spent the day on the couch together while the big kids went to school, snuggled into each other with lethargic fever and painful cough and I realized I would not be able to receive the ashes this night. I found myself frustrated with the realization I was not with my community this night to be marked with the ashes. This was not what I planned. I wanted this night to be sacred. I wanted to be with my church family for this sacred time. I envisioned my little family walking together and being marked together and celebrating with cookies afterwards, but instead we’re sitting on the couch watching Despicable Me 2 for the hundredth time.
So I stopped. I stepped back and breathed. I snuggled my children closer to me and claimed the moment as sacred. This is my community. These littles who hold my heart hostage are my community and I begin now. This moment, this time, this space, sacred. I love my little church, my community/family who bakes meals for each other, who listens with and cries with and for each other, who discovers what it means to be disciples of Christ together. I love them. But these three wild and unpredictable children are my community first.
I missed going to church to receive the ashes this night, but I found the sacred in their laughter, in their brushing of teeth, in reading library book after library book together, in tucking them in and praying over their sleepy, round faces. I found the sacred, and I will forget it again. I will fail. I will find life passing by faster than a blink with my children growing too quickly and in the same breath I will find the day passing by slower than molasses, counting the clock until bedtime. But perhaps, just perhaps, I will remember. I will remember in my lenten fast, in my giving up, that the filling up can come from the sacred happening in my very home.
[Bethany Cseh is co-pastor of Catalyst Church in Arcata.]
PREVIOUSLY in FAITH-Y:
- Dr. Fratkin Told Us a Story
- Sharing Beliefs Relationally
- His Light Endures
- Remembering to Anticipate
- When Christmas is Hard