This year, Lent has not been a seemingly endless series of extra tasks and groanings about the work load. My former spiritual director tried to assure me that that was not how Lent was supposed to be. Rather than set out a plan that neatly fit into the 40 days of the season, I now look back and see what God has given me. I have used this time to write more, read more, and pray more--a serendipitous gift--something I could not create for myself through planning. This has not been a classic 40 days of Lenten discipline; I know that Lent doesn't mean drudgery, it's supposed to mean growth. Maybe growing through writing, reading and prayer--though I didn't read Augustine or Paul and did not pray the Daily Office or from the Book of Common Prayer, I believe that God and I met.
The discipline actually began in December last year; I have read more, written more, prayed more, attended to my primary relationships (finding profound joy in my wife and children) more and exercised more than I have in years. Though I haven't deeply planted my activity in congregational life in the past 2 years, I have still been able to attend to the word of God and preach and still speak something of value to congregations. I honestly don't know how pastors grow in their faith while they attend to the work of congregational life. Maybe it is because I have a preference for introversion and congregational life is more often an extroverted life style. My wife and I moved to South Dakota eight years ago not holding a solid idea of how God was going to use me. It took me about 3 years to get an idea and 5 more to live that idea out vocationally, all while raising two children we didn't have when we arrived. Because that vocation in both my family and in ministry now feels like my own skin, the next few years will be a deeper discernment of how the next season of my life will form.
Maybe this new discipline and reflection will come out in my Holy Week sermons. For the first time in many years, I am responsible for all the sermons of the week (maybe the first time--I don't fully remember). I have always approached Good Friday with the most trepidation. I don't care to make excuses for the challenges of the texts (a pet peeve of mine), yet I never thought that my words can somehow do justice to the ethos of the day. Maybe I have residual pastoral authority issues from the early days of making sense of my calling. Maybe it is this Holy Week that the theological soil I have turned and tilled will bear fruit. For the first time in over 10 years of ministry I have come to this Holy Week not completely spent from Lenten activities. I know better than to expect a great epiphany from my time of reflection--but I have great hope that God will use me to provide a word that reaches people in a place of peace.