I am sitting in my comfortable rocker, thinking of all the things that need to be done, like cleaning the cat box, putting away the clean dishes, working on one or the other of the knitting projects I have going. Both of them I started with such anticipation, but the closer I get to the end, the harder it is for me to finish it. That goes with a lot of things, not just craft projects or household chores. This week I’ve been trying to work on mowing my lawn, and before I could finish, the motor died. Since it several weeks before I can even think about taking it somewhere to have it looked at, I realized that I really wasn’t that anxious to get it fixed. The weeds were nearly knee high, so I got out the weed whacker and started trimming around the trees, the trailer skirting, rocks, and various other things that I run into with the mower. I couldn’t finish the yard with the trimmer; it was just too hard to do. As I went to go into the house, I noticed that there were grass clippings all over the patio, but I simply didn’t have the energy to finish cleaning up. Today it took a lot of my energy to talk myself into going out and completing the sweep up, and so now I sit and think about what I need to work on next.
Sometimes I get a real flash of inspiration as I think about what to write about and reflect on for these pieces, these meditations. Today it flashed in my mind that I need to think about starting and finishing, not starting, then quitting in the middle.
It’s easy to leave work unfinished, thinking, “Finish it now” or “It will be there tomorrow.” If I have six more inches of knitting to finish a scarf, that’s an “It will be there tomorrow” thing. Cleaning the cat box, going to get groceries, or paying the bills are “Finish it now” things. It’s a matter of pushing a bit more to complete a task.
We’ve gone through Christmas and Epiphany, and now we are in Lent, the time of penitence, reflection, and taking steps to increase our spirituality as well as grow in Christian maturity. We usually have a plan for Lent, like we will read so much of the Bible every single day, we will pray the daily office, we will give up chocolate or some other little vice for the duration of the season, and we start with great diligence and enthusiasm. It doesn’t always work. Sometime after the first couple weeks or so, we start finding reasons why we can’t read that chapter or that part of the Bible, we can’t find the time to pray the daily office as we should, we try to make time for spiritual practices, but the kids have to be taken to school, there’s a meeting at 10:30 and it’s 9 o’clock now, or any one of 100 excuses (which we also call reasons) for why we can’t do what we said we were going to do. I know I say okay, it’s going to be this way today, but tomorrow I’ll get back into my practices, but tomorrow I’ll probably find another reason (excuse) for not doing it. I began with good intentions, but somehow it doesn’t always translate into staying motivated until I reach the end on Easter Eve.
I wonder, did Jesus ever want to say, “I don’t feel like doing this today, I’ll do it tomorrow?” It doesn’t seem that way, but to be fully human, wouldn’t he have had to be tempted in that way, even though it wasn’t as drastic as being on a high mountain and being shown the kingdoms of the world, or on top of the temple and being told to jump. Jesus had to endure small temptations, else how could he understand us, the human beings with whom he lived?
We have big lures, some of which will land us in jail, while others will simply make us feel inadequate because we didn’t have the strength to do what we should or not do what we shouldn’t. Still, as they say in Twelve-Step, “One day at a time.” Sometimes one day is too long; it has to be more like one hour, or even one minute at a time, that we have to get through in order to reach the goal.
Starting Lent may be easy, but like a pilgrimage, or even everyday journey, there are rough spots that have to be traversed, there are things that have to be done, whether or not we want to do them. Sometimes we have to struggle like addicts and alcoholics, mothers of small children, and laborers who spend eight hours a day shifting heavy burdens from place to place. We can’t give up halfway through; we have to finish at the end of the day.
Lent is an opportunity for us to learn to pace ourselves, even if we fall every single day. It is a time of falling, picking ourselves up, and taking another step forward rather than going ten steps backward. It’s a time period in which we work to get to the end, and hopefully, when we do reach the end, we feel we have accomplished something, we have grown in some way, we have come to new understandings of things that were cloudy to us before. We have started Lent, and now we must go through it all so we can learn what the season has to teach us this year. It will be different from what we learned last year, and probably different again from what we will learn next year, but, by going through the forty days, one step at a time, we will learn, even if it’s just a small insight. It’s something we did not have before, but yet now we have something to look at and think about, and practice.
So, have a blessed Lent. I know I will be busy trying to follow the exercises I have set for myself, pushing through what I don’t want to do to finish whatever task it is. Okay, I’m getting out of my chair now. God, help me.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. Her three furry roommates are significant contributors to the start-stop process.