Lenten Thoughts: Excuses

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When I worked as a Fitness Tech at Curves, The Workout Place for Women, I heard all kinds of excuses from the women trying to justify not taking or making time to exercise. I knew most of the excuses, because I was already pretty good at using them myself. But aren’t we all?

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Paul paints a pretty clear picture of the human dilemma in Romans 7: that which I should not, that do I do. Personally, He wanted to do better, knew he needed to better, even knew what he should do, but more often than not, he give in to his weaker nature. He felt wretched. Sound familiar?

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I remember waking one morning, early, at 5:00 A.M. to go do my workout. I peeked out the window. The sidewalk and road were covered with snow.  It had been an unusually snowy winter and I was beyond ready for spring. I’ve never liked driving on snow, and would find any number of excuses to not do so. The excuses began formulating in my brain as I contemplated going to workout.

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I had a choice to make. Would I grab an excuse and crawl back into bed for an extra hour of sleep? Who would really blame me? I mean, exercising at 5:00 A.M. is crazy enough, why risk an accident in the snow to do something crazy? Or, would I pull on my sweats and head to the car? I opted for the car!

Now there is not anything necessarily noble about going to exercise at 5:00 A.M., but there is something worth rejoicing about when we don’t let excuses keep us from doing and being what we should or can be and do. We don’t use excuses just to avoid exercising and eating right. We use them to justify poor relationship decisions, cheating at work, speeding down the highway, fudging on our taxes. And we use them with God.

I had a good workout that morning. Physically, mentally, and spiritually, I’m glad I went. As I drove home that day, I thought about how the rest of my day might go. Some of it I could plan for, but I knew things could pop up unexpectedly. I determined right then to have an excuse free day: no excuses physically, mentally, or spiritually. As I recall, I felt freer and got a lot more accomplished—it was easier to get things done rather than hunt for excuses to not.

We talk about all the things we’re going to give up for Lent. Here’s an idea: let’s give up making excuses to avoid doing the things we know we need to do, or the things that will take us out of our comfort zone. We might find a whole new kind of energy. And if we put enough of those days together, we could create a whole new habit—and a positive one at that!

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(I’m still checking on the above quoted motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, so the jury is still out on whether I buy in to all his stuff. This quote, however, hits the nail on the head for me.)

Praying on the Journey

Bill Hybles wrote a book entitled, “Too Busy Not to Pray.” I own it. It looks like a good book. I haven’t read it. The title is convicting enough. I am without excuse when it comes to my prayer life.

My spiritual theme for this year has been “never leaving the temple.” I confess I haven’t been as conscious of it as I need to be. To be honest, I lost it in the month of February. How fitting it should return to my focus on Fat Tuesday, the day before my Lenten journey begins.

So my busyness and my laziness have dimmed my focus. The result has been a pathetic lull in my prayer life. I pray for each prayer request the hits my mailbox or Facebook feed—at least once.

Somehow I have to do better.

Many years ago, I gave a talk called “Shooting Down Our Excuses.” My topic was study and my aim was to address many of the excuses people (including me) throw up to keep us from moving deeper in our relationship with God. Some of those same excuses fit when we think about our prayer life.

Pastor Hybles is absolutely right we’re too busy not to pray, but how do we find time to pray?

I believe part of the problem has to do with our image the person who prays. We all have someone, either in our families or early church experience who lived the prayer warrior life. They spent hours praying…and seeing results. We consider our own lives and schedules and we feel we’ll never measure up.

We’re probably right, but a seemingly unattainable image isn’t enough reason not to pray.

Scripture tells us to “pray without ceasing.” I don’t think Paul meant we’re to be consciously praying one hundred per cent of the time. Centuries ago, Brother Lawrence described the wonder concept of practicing the presence. Our prayer should be as close to us as our breathing.

In each of our lives there are ample unnoticed opportunities which could encourage us to pray. I thought of a couple just this morning as I was getting ready for my day.

First, as I washed my face, I was aware of a feeling of tension and stress leaving as gently rubbed my cheeks and forehead. My mind was pulled into prayer as I asked Jesus to help me to release the things I was stressing over. Hmm, this could work. I started to wonder what other tasks I mindlessly went through that I could be using to prompt and improve my prayer life.

My next idea came to me as I started to brush my teeth. I got excited. I could use the time I spent brushing to pray, asking God to use my words to encourage, comfort, and teach. I could be praying the psalmist’s words, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight my God (Psalm 19:14, my paraphrase).”

It didn’t go quit like I thought. Recently, my husband purchased me a Spin toothbrush. It’s battery operated. I am pleased with how clean my teeth and gums feel after I use it and my dentist is happy too. This morning I wasn’t quite as focused as I should be and I forgot to turn it on when I began brushing my teeth.

There I was manually brushing away. It felt odd, sluggish, as I pushed the potentially powerful brush across my teeth. As the awareness of what I was doing dawned on me so did the spiritual implication. I had all the power necessary for a good cleaning right in my hand, but I wasn’t connected. And spiritually, I have all the power of God available to me. Each moment contains ample opportunity to connect.

Many years ago a dear friend of mine was going through a particularly difficult time in her marriage. She kept her Bible in her car and each time she was stopped at a long red light she would either use the time to stop and pray, or pick up her Bible to read a few verses. She found both of these things strengthened and comforted her and as a result she was able to stand firm in her faith.

I think we might be amazed at how much time there really is in a day to pray if we will just look for it.
I want to be better connected. I want a prayer life filled with joy, coming from focused intentionality, not from a place of ought and should. I’m going to use this Lenten season to accomplish this.

The inevitable question of Lent is, “What are you giving up?” It won’t be chocolate, pop, TV or the internet…not even Facebook. I’m giving up my laziness. I’m giving up “leaving the temple.”

These next forty days I’m going to be more mindful of times when I can connect with God and intentionally connecting with others.

How will you be using this season to grow in grace and knowledge?

Giving Anything Up For Lent?

I decided what I’m giving up for Lent.

Laziness and excuses. No seriously. I’ve held on tighter to these than chocolate, coffee, or soda pop. I have procrastinated and frittered away my time mindlessly surfing the internet or vegging in front of my TV long enough. So I intend to be more active, more intentional, and more focused

Now that doesn’t mean I intend to give up being still. On the contrary, I will be all the more diligent in making sure that I carve out my time in the Word and for intentional blocks of communication with God. I will continue to daily read/study in the following devotionals: The Daily Message, Designed for Devotion, and Sparkling Gems From the Greek. I will prepare for my Sunday School lesson a little bit each day, taking time to absorb more and cross reference material. I will take more time with material for Bible Study. I will seek God’s guidance for the speaking opportunities I have in April and diligently prepare for talks.

With regards to my writing: I intend to have three things ready to submit for BRMCWC contest (due by April 20). I will complete half of the devotions for “It’s About Time”. I will create the guidelines and format to be presented to the congregation for our Advent Devotional series. And I will publish at least once a week in both my blogs.
With regard to my health and fitness: I will do some form of exercise every day. I will return to the more structured eating plan we started last summer.

I haven’t strayed so far from any of these goals, but I have gotten terribly lazy. I find any and every excuse to not follow through. And not a one of them is truly legitimate. Not one.

And I will be accountable to you in all these matters. I believe accountability is absolutely necessary and far too easy to get out of in our current society. And oh, the irony of it! We are connected on every level, but lack the accountability to be better people. It’s a sad, sad thing.

I have long believed that most of the “sacrifices” made for Lent, are for show and fail to get to the heart of the matter—our heart and our relationship with God. Lent was designed and has continued through the ages to provide us with a ready-made opportunity to live more focused and intentionally. The very teachings of Jesus, how purposefully he was as he set his face to the cross should be our example.

So that’s how I plan to journey to the cross. Each time I try to turn to an excuse for doing what I know I need to do, I will confess, repent, and get back to the task. This journey is not for the faint of heart. I can’t be lazy…Jesus wasn’t. I’m following him.

How about you?

Lessons on Loosing the Training Wheels–Part One

My grandson turned six in January. The recent warm weather seems to have awakened a piece of his boyhood. Up to this point he has just not been all that interested in bike riding. His cousins’ love for this hasn’t even been motivating to him. Watching all the neighborhood kids ride by the house has not seemed to phase him. So I’m not sure what brought about the sudden interest or surge of importance, but it was imperative that Pepa get those training wheels off and the riding needed to happen. Now. Now, as in instantly and perfectly. It reminded me of my daughter when she was three. I took her to the library to introduce her to the world of books and she promptly looked at me and told me that she wanted to learn to read. Extatic and feeling like I had acomplished my task, I set out to explain how we would learn letters and then words. She wasn’t having any part of that. She stomped her little foot and in a voice way too loud for the library told me, “No Mommy, I want to learn NOW!

So there I was out in our front yard trying to convince the grandson that I really knew what I was doing and that I would not let him fall to the ground and crack his skull open. I’m not sure where he got that idea from.

At first he insisted that I hold onto both the handle bar and the seat. He wasn’t all that comfortable with that but I was able to get him to allow me to let go of the handle bar so he could do the steering. This accomplished two things: it gave him a sense of control but also reinforced his fear of not being in control. Yeah, I know, it confused him too.

In an attempt to ground this in something he could understand, I reminded him of one of his games on game cube where the character needs to jump from one platform to the next while the platforms rock back and forth. To complete the jump the character, directed by the grandson, has to balance the platform by finding that special spot in the center. He got the concept. What he didn’t get or appreciate was how I was loosely holding the seat which allowed for some uncomfortable tippage. I was soundoy scolded repeatedly for everything from wanting him to fall and to fail. In his mind I was crazy if I thought thisbwas going to work. And ultimately, I must not love him if this was how I was going to treat him when he asked for something as simple as just a little help in learning how to ride his bike. I’ll spare all the anger about the stupid, worthless bike that was obviosly horribly defective since it couldn’t follow his directive.

After about a half hour of more excuses than riding, I told the grandson that I loved him very much, but I needed a break and so did he. I suggested we try again another day. I put the bike in the garage and not the garbage, as he suggested. Then I went and sat on the porch where I could lick my wounds, and contemplate my obviously ineffective teaching strategy. But the teaching wasn’t done.

Sitting there, I felt that gentle nudge that comes from the Spirit. You know the one. It’s just enough to help you stop what you’re thinking so you can see it from a diffrent perspective. From God’s perspective. Then with the exhale that comes from a big sigh, I began to see this riding lesson was less about my grandson learning and much more about the imbalance in my own life.  It wasn’t news to me that God had been trying to get my attention, but what he was asking of me and directing me towards seemed so impossible.  I had given up on those dreams.  But he hadn’t.