Needs Work

If my fast is here, it’s in print too small for me to read.

One of the things I struggle with in Lent is the part about publicizing a fast. This is in part because Jesus says in Matthew 6 to not show off that you’re fasting. It’s partly because I sometimes/often/usually fail in small ways or large ways (see everything I ever wrote about giving up anything related to coffee including not putting chocolate in it or not buying it in coffee shops, the latter sometimes including a pledge to give the saved money to some worthy cause), and it’s partly because I grew up Southern Baptist and that part of me resists the idea, and it’s mostly because every time I say the thing out loud, whatever the things is, I feel weird about it.

This year I picked something hard and personal, and I shared it with two people close to me and a wise person who is in a direction-providing profession. They all liked it ; they liked the idea that I saw a particular unhelpful condition/tendency/habit in myself and wanted amending it to be a goal. 
The thing is, because I grew up hearing that I was essentially a bad and unlovable person, doing anything good for myself without being able to identify it as having a positive outcome for others feels selfish. So I convinced myself that it would be good not just for me, but also for those I love and, indirectly, for the world, which would no doubt be pleasing to God. 
“So, Martha, it’s Day 3. How’s that going for you?”
Not so well, actually. When I’m challenged, I revert to habits of mind that are familiar. Today I felt challenged.
LP told me recently that she worried that if I expressed weakness it would be disconcerting for members of my church, some of whom read this blog. If so, I’m sorry! My guess is they are grown-up people who struggle with their own habits of mind, the things their mothers/fathers/teachers told them, things that may even have been well-meaning, but which serve to haunt the way they see themselves and feel about the way they move in the world. 
I’ve heard people make the case that being too quiet about the faith journey, or our prayer lives, or our spiritual practices is a failure to witness.* I still really don’t want to say what the thing is, exactly, that I’m trying to do or not do. Maybe I’ll be able to reflect on it when Lent is past, or even further underway. Today’s grade is “needs work,” and that’s despite taking the time *today* to write about, pray about and make and edit a list of steps to accomplish what I am trying to do. 
When I felt great emotion, I went right back to the place I usually go. 
That’s my witness for today. For human beings, it probably takes more than three days to do something differently than you have ever done it before.

*If you don’t have MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s Lenten Devotional book, it’s not too late to order it as a download. Thanks to her for raising this question in today’s entry. 

12 thoughts on “Needs Work”

  1. I love LP, but I disagree with her on this one. We are human. We are vulnerable. Folks need to hear that so that they feel okay being human, being vulnerable. How can we expect the people we serve with to accept God's grace and acknowledge Her love, if we refuse to show a need to do likewise.Be gentle.

  2. ditto KZJ–it's important that people see that we struggle sometimes.I tend to share my fasting discipline because it helps me to be accountable. I need people around me to help me out–to encourage me to keep it up, to remind me when I fail that it's hardly the end of the world and I can try again tomorrow, and to gently prod me when I'm failing just because it's easier and I'm lazy. It also helps people not to walk right into it, if you know what I mean–for instance, if I'm refraining from eating out, and people know that, my friends are less likely to invite me out for dinner at our favorite restaurant, which helps me keep my discipline (and keeps me from feeling guilty for saying either yes or no!) AND gives us an opportunity to cook together or something.I should obviously just put that on my own blog. lol.

  3. I would rather have my priest/minister speak honestly and vulnerably about personal life. Re fasting, I have not been successful about this discipline. I have a friend who fasted every Wed. and Fri. for several years, from noon to 3 pm the next day. She told me that it was for a "season" and knew when it was time to stop. I think you sharing your desire to fast and how it is going is a powerful witness, one that I might emulate–if not done perfectly~!

  4. Okay, kzj. I'll try.Teri, I hear that. In this case it would feel like an embarrassing admission that I even need to work on the thing on which I need to work, especially since today's grade is "needs work." Jan, I will say it's got nothing to do with anything a person would eat or drink. (Not that I'm trying to make this a guessing game.

  5. Also ditto what kzj said…As for sharing your fasting discipline, I think that's a very personal choice and you should do whatever works best for you. Some people need or want external accountability; others don't for a variety of reasons. Last year I started WW for Lent, and I didn't tell a soul until Easter … perhaps my reasons weren't the most high minded but it's what worked for me. This year I've publicly committed to begin a "bible challenge" to read the entire bible between now and next Lent. That one I went public on b/c I invited my parish to join me. We'll see how that works out. And do be gentle with yourself…

  6. I totally understand. When choosing the things we ask the confirmation class to fast from for a week during Lent, one of the things was "negativity"–which in part is because I think it's so pervasive and subtly violent in our culture (particularly among teens), and in part because I struggle with it myself. I hate admitting things like that, and there are plenty of years where I've had one public and one private Lenten discipline because I was too ashamed to admit what I really needed. One year it was "prayer life: have one." while I can chuckle about that now, I was deeply embarrassed by it then.So yes: gentle! lots of love and compassion to you.

  7. Well, if it makes you feel any better, you're just cryptic and vague enough that I can imagine it's something like my own not-well-articulated intention for Lent. Today's grade for me is also "needs improvement," though I am in general feeling ok about this "fast." If it were easy to give up, we would just do it any old time.

  8. I think it's very helpful to know that our spiritual heroes have soft spots, places where the Spirit is still working in them. No one leaps from the head of Christ, fully formed! 🙂 The double-edge of personal discipline is that you can be harder on yourself than anyone else might be, but you can also allow yourself to slide in ways that others might not. Sometimes, though, we can't taken the feeling of open air exposure, that rawness, and we just have to work within ourselves. We all "need work" and you're surrounded by love. Take care… you've no less days to work on this than when you first begun. And you are not alone.

  9. I've become a more irregular reader of this blog (and blogs in general), but when I do read it, I am always edified and humbled.I laud and honor your intention to work on yourself, and it does indeed take more than three days to change a pattern. My prayer for you is that no matter what "grade" you earn on a given day, that you can hear the voice of heaven saying "this is my beloved child Martha, with whom I am well pleased."

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