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Speaking to the Soul: Lenten discipline fail

Speaking to the Soul: Lenten discipline fail

Well, by now, if you’ve chosen a Lenten fast or discipline this year, you are a few days into it.  How’s that been going for you?

If the answer is “not very doggone well, actually,”…take heart.
Lent is a season of trying on new things in the hope it will somehow begin to work on us in that way that God makes all things new.  Our Gospel reminds us today that sometimes we are formed by learning the hard way that something about our “container” needs to be changed.  I imagine that person in the parable with the old cloak felt something comforting and familiar about that old cloak, and simply wasn’t ready to discard it.  I imagine that winemaker in the parable was either too busy to make new skins, or they were all out of new skins at the market, or maybe the winemaker was feeling a little on the cheap side that day.  Perhaps there were more pressing bills to pay, and the winemaker chose to make do with what was available.
Yet, time and time again, when we make those kind of choices, we too often discover that things ended up just as bad–or worse–than if we’d simply done nothing and lived with our imperfections.
Here’s the stark reality about Lenten practices and disciplines–sometimes we’ve bitten off a little more than we can chew, especially if we have even a few DNA strands of Type A Personality in us.  Sometimes we are hoping that trying to change a habit during Lent will add some sort of magical powers to making it easier.  (I’ve never seen a study, but I strongly doubt there’s no increase in success in quitting smoking or drinking during Lent compared to the rest of the calendar.)  The stark reality is that there are times we discover we’ve failed at either keeping a Lenten discipline the way we’d envisioned, or when Easter finally rolls around we discover that the practice or discipline did not change us in the way we’d hoped.
The good news, though, is if we are honest about ourselves in a self-forgiving way, in a way that gives us room to spend quiet time with God–we can almost always come away from the experience having learned something useful.  “Failure” in our own self-judgmental mind is almost never failure in the grand scheme of things…and as far as God’s concerned, well…God’s heard it all…and loves us anyway, and might even reveal something transformative about it.
What we often discover in our failures is not about the Lenten practice at all, but about our “container”–our own bodies, minds, and souls–and what about that container needs to change with God’s help.  It often reveals to us we can’t do these things alone, but need the strength and support of community…or need to be part of the strength of community for someone else who is feeling that acute sense of failure.  In short, failing at a Lenten practice or discipline can be an illuminating view of what we learn about our own broken-ness and the needs of a broken, hurting world.
When is a time that failing at a Lenten discipline opened the door to a better understanding of yourself and your faith community?
 Image: old wineskins from wikimedia commons
 Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

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