For Lent this year, I made three commitments:
to read Journey to the Cross by Paul David Tripp each morning;
to use my phone for messages, phone calls, bible reading, and my daily Wordle and crossword puzzles, and nothing more;
and to be intentional about practicing gentleness with my kids, even when I’m at my most frustrated.
Reading each morning has been the easiest of the three to accomplish. In fact, it’s the only one I haven’t failed to do. Yet.
If you have some image of me rising early to sit in a quiet house with a cup of tea as I calmly meditate on God’s Word, banish it from your mind immediately.
(Also, if you had that image, you should probably come spend some time in my house with my four busy kiddos, one of whom is usually up by 6, to get a healthy dose of reality.)
No, there’s precious little quiet around here first thing in the morning.
My reading happens before I get out of bed. Sometimes, the kids are down the hall. Sometimes, they’re flitting around and on top of the bed, chattering like magpies. Sometimes, I’m nursing the baby and mediating squabbles and answering questions about math while also trying to focus on the devotional for the day, wishing I’d had the discipline (or the rest) to get up earlier.
I’ve had quiet times that were, well, quiet, in the past, and I know they’ll happen again someday. But now? Now is not that day.
When I was sharing my second commitment–the one about my phone–with Jonathan, he ticked a finger up at each thing I listed, then raised an eyebrow at me.
“‘Only’ five things, huh?”
Ok, ok. So I don’t really need the word games. Maybe if I were truly holy, I would ditch those, too.
But I’m not. Holy, that is.
Which is, I suppose, the point.
In full disclosure, after making my initial list, I realized there was one thing I forgot.
I can’t really be expected to go forty days without taking a single picture, right?
(Yeah, I know. I have a real camera buried in my closet, one I used to love to use. But, well, that’s terribly inconvenient and bulky and by the time I ran to get it, whatever I wanted to capture would likely be over, in which case it would have been better to just stay present in the moment and . . . oh. Right.)
Also, there’s my calendar. And the Kindle App. And YNAB. And Libby. And . . . well, you get the idea.
In my defense–I’m especially good at that, coming to my own defense–when I actually stick to just those
five six things, I spend significantly less time on my phone than I normally do.
The problem is, it’s boring. And unproductive. And, often, inconvenient.
There are times when I’m nursing Emmeline and nothing but my phone is within reach. I can use it to look up a recipe for dinner, or a project for school. I can read the news or check my email. I can work on our budget.
That is, I can do something useful with that time. I can be productive.
(At which point, a still, small voice whispers, “And what about prayer?”)
There’s nothing wrong with these things. They can be good and necessary and valuable.
Unless, of course, you’ve made a commitment to set those things aside and to be still. Unless you have, perhaps, begun to make an idol of usefulness and productivity (or have been spending too much time scrolling headlines). Unless you have been feeling a nudge to put the phone down.
In that case, there’s everything wrong with them.
And here’s the truth: there have been moments over the past week when I’ve reached for my phone, remembered my commitment, and picked it up anyway.
If you’ve made it this far, you may have noticed that I’ve spent a lot of space talking about devotionals and phones and not so much time talking about gentleness.
For some reason, it’s easier to confess my dependence on the machine in my pocket than it is to talk about the times I fail to be patient and kind with my kids.
I think I had some notion that, if I just stated my intention to practice gentleness (or, for that matter, to stay off of my phone), everything would fall into place. If I started my day by praying for help–and I do, every morning–then the rest would be, if not easy, at least manageable.
That notion was wrong.
I made it all the way until late afternoon on Ash Wednesday–that is, not even 24 hours into this 40-day commitment–before the first frustrated tone and impatient words escaped.
I could give any number of excuses as to why I failed: the kids were being especially exasperating (they were), Wednesday was a co-op day and co-op days are long and tiring (they are), Emmeline was crying and that often puts me on edge (she was and it does).
Like I said, I’m good at coming to my own defense.
But when my kids shrink back from my harsh tones, when my reaction does nothing to restore peace and, in fact, makes things worse, it’s clear that my own defense isn’t good enough.
No, strike that.
It isn’t that it isn’t good enough: it’s that it isn’t good at all.
The ironic thing is that I was giving myself the proverbial pat on the back for even observing Lent this year. Look at me, being all spiritual. I’m not even part of a liturgical tradition.
I never would have voiced such sentiments, of course. I don’t think I was fully conscious of them.
But they were there lurking, ugly, behind my good intentions.
And isn’t this the point of Lent, after all?
To show me that, despite my best intentions, I do not do the good I want to do.
To remind me that, left to my own devices, I fail over and over again.
To teach me that, no matter what defense I might raise on my own, it will never be sufficient.
By God’s mercy, Lent reveals that I am not–and will never be–enough. And it drives me into the arms of the One who is.