It is our deepest need as human beings to learn to live intimately with God – it is what we were made for. We learn from the opening chapters of the Bible that God created us to be in deep connection with Him and the metaphor used to describe this is walking together in the garden together (which has particular pathos at the current moment when we cannot properly walk together or visit one another’s gardens!). I often wish that my life was characterised by walking with God and talking with him about my dreams, my hopes, my desires and hearing his delight in me.
In the material world we live in, we invest a lot of time and money making sure things around us work to their peak performance and we buy insurance so that if problems occur, we can get them fixed. We can hear when our car is not working properly; there is a rattle here, a squeak there or a red light on the dash-board! If our boiler breaks down we have a service plan to get it sorted and if we feel unwell we know that we need to get checked out by a doctor (unless you are a man or a nurse in which case you will put it off!) But I wonder how much time or money we invest in making sure our spiritual lives are in tip top condition? The pandemic has made us all feel vulnerable in different ways, but one thing is certain; most of us feel significantly more anxious and our fuses are shorter than they used to be. But what do we do with that? Ultimately it is a matter of the soul (or spirit), the heart and we don’t really know who to go to in order to fix that. We are just generally out of touch with our soul and when a huge challenge overtakes us, like the trauma of the pandemic, we are lost. I am supposed to be in touch with my soul (as the vicar!) and yet I know for certain that I am just wishing time away; just get to the next school holiday or to the point where most vulnerable people are vaccinated… longing for Boris to say that we can meet together again!
And so we come to Lent. I would like to suggest that Lent is precisely the moment when we invest some time, energy and maybe even some money to look after our spiritual lives. It is a time to recover what it might look like to walk with God. It is spiritual detox. It is about recognising that some of the things we do every day, often without thinking, are so unhealthy for the soul. It is about really looking at our inner workings and being curious; that is making us anxious, why am I comfort eating, why am I obsessed about image or money or … (fill in the blank). It is not fundamentally about giving up chocolate or gin unless we are, in fact, addicted to those things. It is more about asking what is getting in the way of living a more balanced spiritually-healthy life? what is getting in the way of me feeding my spirit?
I think this year I want to encourage you to think carefully about intentionally adding something to your daily routine which will give you a spiritual boost. One thing I have found immensely helpful is the one-minute pause app developed by John Eldredge . It is simply an app on my phone that reminds me twice a day to have a 1, 3, 5 or 10 minute pause and use some reflective music and a prayer to introduce a sense of peace and serenity into my day. Why don’t you join our weekly prayer course on zoom on a Wednesday evening, or buy the accompanying book, Pete Greig’s “How to Pray.” Buy a Lent book that has a daily reading or a chapter for each week of Lent. Listen to some spiritual music, whether cathedral choirs or Hillsong worship music. I assure you that if you do that and give your heart and soul some self-care you will feel more peaceful, less anxious and more joyful as you go through Lent.
Alongside doing something positive, be mindful about what takes your focus each day and try and reduce the distractions. If you find yourself being sucked into hours of social media or endless WhatsApp conversations. If you watch/listen to the news several times a day. If you realise that your alcohol intake during lockdown has massively increased because it gives you comfort, then be more mindful and reduce it. For me, as well as being mindful about my chocolate and alcohol consumption, I have decided to stop sudoku. There is of course nothing wrong with sudoku, but I know that I am more likely to get lost in a sudoku puzzle than read a book. So I am going to hide my sudoku puzzles and prioritise reading through Lent and see how I feel at the end!
If we are made for a closer walk with God as I maintain, then intentionally thinking about how you are going to move through Lent will be a very valuable experience and will get you ready for the radical, explosive and amazing news of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
If you need any help or advice do feel free to contact me and do listen to our weekly service on the website www.burleyparishchurch.org.uk and check out our new podcasts. And of course, I would simply love you to join us for our weekly conversation and video about how to pray on a Wednesday evening. I certainly need that and I think you will find it really helpful too.