I know I don’t talk about my faith and God a lot on this blog, but today I will. Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about our winter Europe trip – those blogs are still to come! Anyways, since I was young I have always loved the Easter season. Thanksgiving makes a close second and really the two are pretty similar – both happening around changes of season, both reflective times full of thanks. Maybe it started because I was raised Catholic, but I have always loved Lent. Churches hold extra services during the week, devotionals are made, and you can feel that things are more reflective. I loved the church we went to back in Buffalo. Holy Trinity Lutheran would hold middle of the week soup dinners followed by lenten readings and songs. I guess I just loved the idea that for 40 days people decided be more intentionally focused on their spiritual well being. I know those who are extra crticial out there would say “well shouldn’t you be that way all year long?”And maybe we should but let’s be honest with ourselves – we are all human. We fall, we forget, we mess up. So I have always found Lent to be a way to restart, recharge, and remember the roots of what we believe. Because of that I thought now, at the beginning of lent, would be a great time to reflect on what God has been teaching me while I have been in the UAE this past year and a half . . .
1. Being in a Desert
Being exposed to the desert daily – seeing sand dunes, getting sand in your eyes and teeth and ears, poor air quality – really makes you look at parts of the bible differently. When I read that God’s people wandered in the desert for 40 days, well I just wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I always makes sure to check the gas each morning and afternoon before we drive 40 minutes into the desert to get to school. I don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road in the desert for more than an hour in this heat let alone wandering in it for 40 years!
When you’re in the desert you are alone – and you feel so alone. There is no way to know which way to go, there is a feeling of desperation and fear that creeps up and living in this desert has outwardly reflected my spiritual life lately. I didn’t realize it until my good friend Ruth suggested I listen to her church’s sermons online (click here if you want to check it out too). I started with the sermon series about Exodus. Reading about wandering the desert really began to strike a chord with me. I slowly began to realize that I am not only living in a desert, but spiritually I am a desert. My daily life has grown to be full of so much anxiety and confusion. I feel so alone in this country away from everyone I love back home. As the sermon series continued the pastor reminded me that the Israelites were brought to the desert to trust God – not just to find the promised land. I was not brought here because I was laid off, the UAE is no promised land for me, but I am here wandering – discovering how I can trust God is this desert. Even when Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days it was not a mistake. You see, God doesn’t care about our comfort – he cares about what we focus our life on. He wants us to have a full life – not a self-centered life. There is a big difference. A full life doesn’t mean more money, more opportunity to travel, a comfortable place to live. It means a life where God is our focus. The desert has always been a major theme of the bible and I see that it is also become a theme to my life.
2. Trust and Anxiety
Since being here I have developed a bit of an anxiety problem. Things that normally wouldn’t cause my stomach to lurch have sent me almost into panic attack mode. I am constantly thinking in “what-ifs.” I see the danger in every situation and am still convinced each time that I get into a car here that it will end in an accident (although if you saw the driving here you might not find that one so irrational!). So much has changed in our lives over this past year and half and daily I find I still am confronted with challenges. Everything here takes a least 5 extra steps, and something as simple as going to the doctor, or getting an oil change, or paying your electricity bill can be filled with stress and confusion.
For months I have been praying for this dark cloud of anxiety to release itself from me. About 5 months ago I wrote this in my prayer journal “Lord, have your roots take hold of my heart. I want to walk with you in my day – feel peace instead of anxiety, grace instead of stress, and calm instead of chaos.” When people tell me to just relax or just calm down that doesn’t really help. If my anxiety was something I could control that easily, then I wouldn’t be anxious. Each day I have to remind myself to be alert for these feelings and slowly I’m learning to dismiss them – through prayer, through logic, and through meditation.
3. The Little Things
“To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” – Psalm 27:4
One thing that has really helped me cope with my anxiety and cope when I have feelings of being utterly alone and disconnected to all that is familiar, I try to focus on the little things. Some days while here I just fight everything – my routine, teaching, making dinner. So instead of complaining about getting up early and driving to work, I have learned to enjoy the sunrises. Instead of complaining about the 40 minute commute, I have learned to love seeing the camels wandering about (something I wouldn’t see if I worked in the city). I’m trying to relish in the small beauty that God surrounds me in everyday instead of letting my anger or frustration cloud my outlook on the world.
God wants us to see his work in our lives daily, and to not miss it because we are resistant to change or unfocused. It has been my goal lately to see God’s beauty and his work in my life. When I see the camels after a long days work I know God is trying to make me smile. When I see freshly planted flowers while walking to the grocery store I know God is reminding me of his grace.
4. Being Enough
Just this past week, on the day before lent started I read a devotional that brought me instantly to tears – the kind of cry that comes from your heart – the kind of cry that comes from someone saying they love you when you didn’t expect it, but needed to hear it – the kind of cry that comes from realizing that you are not enough, but it’s ok that you’re not enough. The part of the devotional that really struck a chord was this:
You have nothing beautiful to offer. You have only frailty, difficulties, deficiency, and debt . . . your only measure of worth is performance and productivity . . . you have anxiety, loneliness, exhaustion, and fear. God says bring these to me. This is your offering, your spiritual act of worship. The boy on the mountainside only had five barley loaves and two fish. If someone would have whispered to him that morning, These will feed five thousand men, the boy would have had a panic attack. It isn’t enough! It will never suffice. But the math of man does not compare to the economy of God.
It was all I needed to hear – it was everything I hoped to hear – it was the very thing I need God to whisper into my heart. So much of my daily life is consumed with being good enough, showing the best results, ensuring my students have shown improvement – and taking the blame whenever anything isn’t good enough. My soul is plagued with anxiety, fear, and exhaustion. Reading this reminded me that God says that even in all our failures, in all our losses, in all our debt we are still enough. He can take our five loaves and still somehow feed five thousand. I don’t know how, but if I am willing to let him work in me, I know he will provide! Seriously, take a moment now and read this devotional – go ahead, click here.
So that brings us to this year . . .
Think of skimming things from the surface of your soul, getting rid of what is preventing you from seeing clearly, seeing what lies deeper down” – James Martin, SJ in The Jesuit’s Guide to Everything
For me, lately it has become social media that has prevented me from seeing clearly, from seeing what lies deeper down in my soul. Let me be clear though – I mean social media not technology. For lent this year I will take two days a week (on on the weekend and one during the week) where I will give up social media – specifically Facebook, Instagram, and Bloglovin. I will not include my email or my blog because I find that sending a letter to a friend or family member, or creating a blog post to be productive. What I mean is that I find I waste too much of my day scrolling through Facebook, wasting minutes and hours – time that should be spent more wisely. I am hoping that by doing this I spend more time reading, in prayer, writing, going for a walk, and interacting with the world. The time I spend on social media has started to clog my soul and I need to refocus – and what better time to refocus than during Lent! So, what about you? What is your focus for this lent?