Ash Wednesday 2018 marked several things. It was 5 liturgical years since I gave my first sermon to a small group gathered in Christ Church, Chester. It was our first Valentine’s Day married. It was the last day my boss would be at work for over three weeks. It was also the first day of Lent.
I know I’m slightly late in posting about the first week on Lent, so apologies for that. But I feel like it’s worth thinking about anyway.
This year, I have chosen to give up alcohol. After getting back off an all inclusive Caribbean honeymoon in January, I didn’t really fancy a drink for weeks. Our mates came round for a birthday celebration and I had a bit then, but apart from that I’ve not really felt like a drink for a while. ‘I could give up alcohol’ I thought, ‘I’m not much in the mood for any anyway’.
‘That’s not really in the spirit of Lent, is it, Poppy?’ asked that oh so familiar voice, both on my shoulder and over the phone when I called my Mum last week for a chat. I prepared my Ash Wednesday sermon for a joint service at Nathan’s Church (super scary, for several reasons), gave said sermon and afterwards found myself wanting to nip to the pub for a Valentine’s glass of wine. That was it, I decided, I am giving up alcohol for Lent.
I have also joined the gym. Those of you who know me well will appreciate what a phenomenon this is. I am not and have never been the biggest fan of exercise. So far this week, I’ve had one work out session and one class of ‘PiYo’ (Pilates combined with Yoga). At the end of PiYo the instructor got us to lie down on the floor, face down and spread out like a starfish. She then told us to ‘lift our limbs’ and I’m pretty sure that I just about managed to lift my palms from the floor slightly. 2 days later and my stomach still hurts when I laugh. One gym session and one class isn’t much but I feel more whole for doing something different.
It would appear that, for me, Lent 2018 is about things that are different. I’m missing my Friday night glass of red, and the same on Sunday after work. I know I’ll miss a drink or two on my birthday. But I’m enjoying exercising some self control and reminding myself when I’m tempted that Lent is for reconnecting with God, and remembering Jesus’ fast in the wilderness.
Joining the gym, I suppose, accidentally coincided with Lent, but I feel physically very different that I did a week or so ago. I’ve no idea how the heart rate monitor on my fitbit works, or what it really means, but I’ve gone from an average resting heart rate of 70 to 66. This cannot be bad, and the time doing a very different kind of work let’s me process things from Church in the back of my mind for a bit.
And then there’s the big difference that is ‘being in charge of the ship’ for 3 and a bit weeks while my boss has a well earned holiday in Australia (there’s really no point going for a week, is there?). This stretch of time was a scary thought for ages, and still is, a bit. But both churches are currently still standing and although I find myself making decisions and ministering without my usual safety net there, I am surrounded by resourceful, capable and loving people. I also have a very kind husband who made me pancakes (somewhat ironically, as it’s Lent!) when I had a bit of a flap.
And then there’s God. I’ve been meaning to start Pete Greig’s book, Dirty Glory, for about 6 months, and now I’ve started I’m trying my best not to gobble it up all at once, and to let it speak to me over a period of time. I’m thoroughly enjoying reading about the power of prayer. I’m inspired by it and it makes me hungry, curious and excited. I’ve been reminded whilst reading that prayer is about a relationship with God, which I can only have when I spend time with him. This is something else I’m trying to work into my life this Lent. Proper time with God, no matter how busy it gets.
Sometimes in life, it’s like I can feel cogs turning and things shifting as I form and delevop. Lent, for me at least, is about doing something different, be it intentionally or coincidentally, and allowing God to do a bit more of what he needs to do in me.