Fasting from Facebook

Ash Wednesday is this week, and the day marks the first day of Lent for 2010. Last year, I celebrated Lent with an established community–we supported each other, encouraged each other, and had the best celebration I’ve ever had on Easter Sunday. For Lent last year, I gave up caffeine for the 40 day period, and the experience was really good. I was more focused and less dependent on caffeine to get me through the day. But more than just the physical fasting, I strove to give myself and my desires over to Christ, particularly the overwhelming desire that I have, as most single females to do, to be in a relationship. Those 40 days were a struggle. I never realized how much time I spend letting my mind wander…imagining how conversations could have gone differently, overanalyzing text messages and phone calls, asking “what if” questions that end up destroying my mindset. At the end of the Lent season, my heart had been transformed.

This is not to say that all is perfect. I still struggle often with those same issues. However, I’ve noticed a marked difference in the way that I perceive relationships. Less angst. More waiting. More hope.

This year, I’m approaching Lent in a slightly different way. The emotional fasting, if you will, will be the same. Can I surrender every aspect of my life to Christ? Can I surrender control? Can I spend my time in ways that reflect Christ’s glory? And can I encourage others in this same journey?

But the physical fasting will be different. I honestly don’t want to give up caffeine again. I know part of it is fear, but my life is so much more hectic now, and caffeine is often the best stimulant I have to get me through those superlong days. However, I will be giving up two things that are quite important to me: Facebook and Twitter.

I anticipate several outcomes of this. First, more time. For homework, for friends, for Jesus. 🙂 Second, I expect that I’ll need to find alternate ways of communicating with people, of seeking community. The Twitter updates that are sent to my phone are often the way I keep up with friends who don’t live in my apartment, and that’s not good enough. Those updates will be turned off, and I’m deleting the Twitter number from my phone until after Easter. Facebook is even worse–I know so much about my friends’ lives because it pops up on a computer screen, not because I’ve talked to them. For 40 days, it will be a challenge to seek community. [Note: I will be checking in on Sundays. But just once for Facebook, and I don’t plan on checking Twitter at all.] Third, I expect to blog and journal more. I use Twitter as a virtual scrapbook of things that happen in my life. If I go 40 days without sending a tweet, I’ll need a record of all that.

That’s my goal for the next seven weeks. If you need me, comment on my blog. Email me. Call me. Or–shocker–come see me! We’ll communicate the way the old folks do! 🙂

By the Cross

My childhood memories of Easter all seem to merge together into one indistinct memory. We always woke up really early, Berry and I unloaded the goods in our Easter baskets, and I unwillingly put on some frilly Easter dress (until I was old enough to really protest). Then, my family went to our town’s sunrise service (the three main churches held a community-wide service, which means I saw everyone I knew), followed by breakfast in the church fellowship hall. Breakfast was followed by some sort of Easter cantata, followed by lunch at one of my grandmother’s houses, followed by a nap and being lazy the rest of the day.

Very traditional. Very Southern. Very Baptist. None of those are bad things. They just are what they are. This year was remarkably different. It was the first Easter Sunday I haven’t spent with my family. Well, family as in my parents, brother, and grandparents. And it actually ended up being the best Easter Sunday I’ve had.

Easter season officially began with the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. It was my first time participating in Lent, and the whole experience changed the way I thought about a lot of things. More than ever, I focused more on my thoughts and actions and how they reflect Christ. I have a much better grasp on how difficult it is to fully die to my own self. In some ways, I feel like during those 40 days, I failed often. It’s so easy to become inwardly focused and self-pitying and forget about grace and peace. But mostly, I came out of Lent feeling victorious. To truly deny myself of something that I want very badly for the sake of letting Christ have my heart and mind is a miraculous thing. Last Sunday, I was really looking forward to the whole of Holy Week. Pushing through that last week of Lent, Good Friday at Radius, and the big party on Easter Sunday.

Good Friday dawned gray and stormy. Perfect for the somber mood the day deserves. I was soaked and chilled by the time I got to Radius. I sat upstairs in the prayer room, watching the rain pour down and listening to the booming thunder and the music reverberating through the floorboards from the gathering room below, where Stuart was playing Sigur Ros. Never have I been able to be so in-tune to what the disciples and the women at the cross might have been feeling that day that Christ died. Never have I felt so fully free.

Easter Sunday was the best celebration–all day! Chris came over for lunch, and Harvin and I cooked really awesome chicken and shrimp fajitas. It ended up being a cool celebration for the end of Lent–Chris got to eat meat, and I had Diet Coke (with caffeine!). Then, we spent the afternoon baking for Radius. Harvin made her most excellent sausage balls (and I helped by grating cheese, most of which Chris and I ate before it made it into the bowl) and Chris made mint-chocolate brownies that were delightful. Then we all went to Radius for a Resurrection Day party.

Easter at Radius was beautiful. A huge crowd gathered in the old sanctuary, which is slowly being renovated. Long rows of tables were spread out across the room, and they still didn’t hold everyone. We had a feast of biblical proportions. We talked about Christ’s last moments on earth and celebrated the Resurrection! We sang and worshipped and took communion as a body of believers. We watched five people get baptized–including one guy who was visiting Radius for the first time! We partied well. We’re living well. We’re experiencing grace and peace, and it’s so miraculous and beautiful!

Ash-Wednesday

eliotToday, on this first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, it seems only appropriate to reflect on the words of my favorite poet, T.S. Eliot. The marvelous, genius, insightful Mr. Eliot is a beautiful reminder that God can take someone broken and searching and use him for His glory. As much as I love Eliot’s pre-conversion poetry (such as The Waste-Land and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”), his post-conversion poetry is a beautiful testament to His faith in Christ and his belief that literature can be the purest form of art. His poem “Ash-Wednesday,” published in 1930, may be the best example I know of these beliefs. It’s often difficult to understand and obtuse, but packed full of Truth. Eliot struggled with moving from utter faithlessness to salvation, and that tension and struggle is beautifully memorialized in this poem. You can read the entire poem at the link above [or find a delightful collection of his complete works and spend an afternoon with Mr. Eliot :)]. But I shall henceforth include my favorite excerpts from “Ash-Wednesday.”

From part 1:

“Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain”

From part 2:

“Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen.”

From part 5 (perhaps my favorite verse in all of literature):

“If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.”

From part 6, the concluding lines of the poem:

“Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.”

Learning How to Die

Disclaimer: This blog may be a sort of eruption of everything in my head. Hopefully, it’ll all make sense in the end.

Lent begins on Wednesday. I’ve never participated in Lent before because no church I’ve ever been a part of has encouraged it. I’m not even sure I knew what Lent was until maybe middle school. That changes this week, with Ash Wednesday fast approaching.

At church, we’ve been working through the book of Galatians. We’ve been talking about grace and peace–how we can do nothing to earn grace, and how striving for grace cheapens it. How peace comes when we accept grace with no strings attached. It’s obviously been on my mind a lot–I’ve been constantly reminded of grace in unexpected ways. I’ve found peace even when I’m exhausted and stressed out. (This is such a watered-down summary of all I’ve been thinking about that it doesn’t even seem to be scratching the surface.)

In conjunction with that, I’ve been a part of a community at North Greenville with people who are quickly becoming my family, people I genuinely love and care for. It’s been incredible. And we’ve all been working through the book of John, where over and over again, I am reminded of how vast Jesus is. The past few days, I’ve been reading through chapters 11 through 15, and over and over again, I’ve seen the theme of how everything–Lazarus’ death, Judas’ impending betrayal, the story of the vine and the branches–everything points back to God’s glory. Everything happens because God will be glorified.

All of these ideas combining in my head have made for an interesting few weeks. And I feel like it’s about to get even more interesting…and difficult. See, at church Sunday night, Stuart (our pastor) encouraged us all to participate in Lent, communally, if possible. He encouraged us all to die to ourselves in every way that we can, to get rid of any sin that’s separating us from God–from his peace, from his glory. To leap off the cliff and follow Jesus in every way that we can.

Yikes. Scary. Difficult. Invigorating. Enthralling.

So after meeting with my community tonight and spending some time wrestling over how we can die to ourselves, I’ve made a few decisions. First, the easy thing. I can’t exactly fast in the traditional sense of the word (because of the diabetes and all). But I can certainly give up something that has become my crutch: caffeine. Starting Wednesday, no more Coke Zero, no more real coffee, no more tea from the NGU caf. Be prepared. 🙂

But more importantly, can I die to myself emotionally? Can I fully turn over my heart and my mind to Christ? Can I learn to overcome my impatience? Can I hand over the desires of my heart and fully trust that God has a greater plan in mind? It will require constant vigilance, an unceasing awareness of moments when I attempt to wrestle control away from God. Intentionally letting God pervade my thoughts instead of all the crap I tend to get focused on. Choosing to rely on Him instead of my own imperfect plans. And doing it all unselfishly because I want to glorify my Father and not have pride in myself.

I can already feel that the last part may be the most challenging. (To be honest, even writing this seems a bit prideful–as though I want you all to know how self-sacrificing I can be. But that’s not my intention at all.) But if I love Jesus, then I’ll want to follow his Word, right? And if He promises that whoever loses his life will gain it, what do I have to lose?

Here’s the cliff. I think I’m about to start free falling.

Grace and peace.