Reflections by Jerry Webber

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What It Takes To Be Happy

As the season of Lent came this year, I didn't have any strong impressions about a Lenten discipline to follow. Many years ago I would engage in some kind of fast through the season, by not eating certain foods or by a total fast for certain days of each week.

In more recent years, I've taken to fasting emotional reactions and personal quirks . . . one year I tried to fast anger, another year I fasted judging others. While I found that those emotional responses arose so quickly and unimpeded within me that I couldn't completely govern them, I came to see that God's invitation to me through those "fasts" was to notice the anger or the judgment when it rose up within me. So the fasting became an exercise in awareness, paying attention more closely to my interior landscape. Those were humbling fasts. I saw that I couldn't go without anger or judgment, for example, but could pray for the grace to notice them when they arose.

This year I came to Ash Wednesday not feeling strongly invited into any particular practice. About a week into Lent, I heard the word, "patience."

"Oh no," was my first thought. Well, truthfully, my reaction was quite a bit stronger than that, but I won't put it out there in this blogpost.

I know from experience that prayers for patience most always are accompanied by life-circumstances designed to stretch and test patience. A wise elder said to me one time, "Don't ever pray for patience unless you are really sure you want it, and you're willing to go through what is necessary to have it." I've never forgotten her counsel. After 80-plus years, she knew from experience the difficult road to patience.

For me last month, though, "patience" was just the first invitation I heard. Within a couple of days, what started as "patience" had become "perseverance" and "endurance." Yep, I know . . . even worse than patience!

But I had the clear impression that for Lent I was to live with perseverance and endurance. The words literally suggest bearing up underneath a heavy weight, or remaining under a weight without trying to run away or escape.

These were challenging words for me. I like to keep options open. I like to know there are escape hatches if things get too heavy or too difficult. If things aren't going well in one place, I like having the freedom to move to something else. Perhaps I'm not alone there.

For this season, though, I felt invited to bear up under the difficulties and tensions, to hold them and bear their weight, rather than run away from them. These were not words I was thrilled to hear, but it was what I felt was offered to me through Lent.

In the weeks since that invitation first unfolded for me, the words have continued to evolve. For example, it has become apparent that often I have made my well-being dependent on fixing the difficult or trying things in my outer world . . . or else, escaping them.

The corollary is that if things aren't fixed or healed or righted as I would like, I convince myself that life cannot be good. It's really faulty thinking, and it makes me want all the brokenness fixed and the dysfunction healed . . . or else I will run away and escape it somehow.

Perseverance and endurance are my invitations to live underneath difficult circumstances, and to engage life so that my well-being is not dependent on the difficulty going away or being fixed.

For instance, my well-being is not dependent on my health clearing up and the lymphoma going away. That healing may happen, but it also may not happen.

So the questions for me are not, "How can I fix this?" or "How can I make this right or better?" or "Where will I escape to if this doesn't turn around?"

Rather, the questions are, "How can I stay faithfully engaged with God and life while in this place?" and "In what ways am I invited to live my God-designed life even in these difficulties?"

It is now the fifth week of Lent . . . and these things are still unfolding for me. I don't sense that they will be completely resolved by Easter . . . this feels like ongoing work.

So for now I try to hold the questions, and to do so with endurance and perseverance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your honesty and vulnerability are such a blessing.They invite me to ever so gently peek at those dark things that are a constant companion in my daily living....behaviors that I find so difficult to admit ownership of.