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Lenten Devotional Week Three: The Surprising Burden of "Living Your Best Life"

March 08, 2018

I don’t know which is heavier: the burden of self-hatred or that of self-blessing. It seems that our churches are filled with people who are crushed by both. On one shoulder, they carry shame that their dreams haven’t come true. They hoped for something and got burned...On the other shoulder they carry the responsibility to affirm themselves, “ I must assert myself, express myself, muster confidence from deep within.” But what happens when this confidence runs out? Lent is a good medicine for individuals and the communities they inhabit. It is a season for us to receive the humility of Christ in such a way that frees us to pour ourselves out in love toward others. -from The Good of Giving Up, by Aaron Damiani.

Have you ever gone back and read your old journals? It’s not always pleasant. Amidst moments of clarity and truth, mine have a lot of minutia and friend drama. I was not exactly the child-genius I wish I could consider myself. 

If you, like me, grew up journaling, you may understand the temptation to view prayer time as an opportunity to download all of your problems to God. In some ways that’s a beautiful thing–God wants us to cast all of our burdens onto him. Opening my quiet time with this outflow has been very helpful because it expands the bounds of where I allow God in my life. Sometimes I start my time by pulling out my phone and inviting that friend to coffee, or praying through articles on the New York Times website whose cacophony I’d rather be ignoring. And sometimes I consider my own big decisions and make pros and cons lists with God to help me analyze. 

But as of late, my temptation has been to grow this time longer and longer, until sharing my current stressors was consuming almost half of my prayer time. I felt a lot of pressure as I tried to figure out my own future and make my own dreams come true, so naturally, I wanted God to handle the pressure instead. What I didn’t realize is that I was trying to “handle” my time with him in the process, desiring an answer from him instead of desiring him. 

During Lent, I’ve sensed God calling me to just pick up my Bible and read. Progressively I’ve been making my way through Mark before I move on to the other Gospels, reading large chunks at a time, and rather quickly. I’ve begun to reading the stories like they were a book instead of some puzzle that I had to crack to figure out its specific application for my life. Not only did reading the Bible become more enjoyable in the process, but for a moment, it took me out of myself and feeling the need to solve my own future. By the time I finished my first session, I couldn’t say I had a kernel of truth that was going to solve my problems. But I did have a little perspective on them. I felt less crushed under the weight of the self-blessing that Damiani talks about, constantly striving to "live my best life" you might say, and more like I had the freedom to take one small step followed by the next. 

That’s what the season of Lent does, it allows us to step outside of the stream of self-blessing that actually keeps us locked in shame and away from God’s presence. And as a result, perhaps we’re able to (slightly) less begrudgingly offer to do the dishes, or give someone a ride when it’s out of our way, or stop and talk with the woman at the checkout counter, because we don’t need to be realizing our dreams at all points throughout the day. Lent reorders our desires so that we may, if we’re not careful, actually begin to desire this refreshing dose of humility. 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Are there areas in your life where good self-motivation as you work towards your goals has turned into self-blessing? 

  2. What would it look like for you to let go of this pressure and the shame that results when these goals aren’t accomplished exactly has you expected?

  3. As you walk through your day, are there any small opportunities to step out of the stream of self-focus through your actions? Are the chunks of time that you can set aside for this specific purpose

Read the second post in our devotional series here.

Find more practical guidance as you walk through Lent in The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent, a new book by Fr. Aaron Damiani, the rector of our church plant, Immanuel Anglican in Chicago.