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  • cmcsullivan

Such strange times we are living in. A couple of friends, women a decade or two older than I, have, in the past few years, faced unexpected and unwanted changes in their personal relationships. Their experiences have caused me to think a great deal about life events that befall us without our consent. I've thought, "So often I fail to act of my own volition while I still can."


Now here we all are, the whole wide world, living with the consequences of circumstances which are beyond our control. Here we sit, looking out at the world (which today, where I am, is blowing with new snow after a spring-like 65 degree day yesterday. The last day of winter and the first day of spring have reversed themselves. How quickly things can change!). The world we live in seems transformed, but really, it was never what we'd imagined it to be. We're more vulnerable, more connected, less in control than we thought.


I keep thinking about the meaning of apocalypse, a revealing. We are in a time of apocalypse, that which was hidden being unveiled before our eyes. How do we feel about what we see? How will we respond?


Our responses will remake us. In our personal apocalypses, our personal lives are remade. Coronavirus is remaking the world, and us too. What we have been was, perhaps, as true as we had eyes to see. It will take courage to take a fresh look at ourselves and our relationships, our work and play, our communities and our world. What is the truth? What did we prefer to see before the naked underside of things was laid bare?


We'd prefer to go back. It's only been days. We can remember clearly what was normal -- school and work, grocery shopping and socializing. All that we took for granted, because we could, until we couldn't. We could not imagine this and it came so quickly. As the days and weeks and, God forbid, but likely, months go by, we may no longer be able to imagine things as they were.


Who will we become in the meanwhile? The fissures between us will continue to appear as one locks herself in the house, another hoards toilet paper, yet another refuses the six-foot separation of bodies now mandated for the common good. Can we draw together as we stay apart? Will we accept that the brokenness between and among us on the outside is a manifestation of the broken places on the inside?


The opportunities dormant in this moment are endless. We can slow down and become quiet. Yes, we can stream movies, but we can also watch the narrative playing in our own hearts and minds. We can be sad and hopeful, fearful and helpful, lost and grateful all at the same time. We can watch the unfolding drama around us and within us and learn who we have been, who we are, who we are becoming.

  • cmcsullivan

Fasting. Weeping. Mourning. Almsgiving. Sin. Repentance. Prayer. These are the themes of Lent. They sound dark and sad. They make us want to look away.


We shy from the lenten seasons of our lives. I want not to fast, but to feast, not weep and mourn, but rejoice. I want to hang on tightly to what is mine rather than to give it away. I find it easier to ignore my sin than to repent. I am tempted to keep busy with everything else rather than to pray.


Where does this get us? We lead lives that, by and large, go unexamined. We get up in the morning, work the day through, and sleep again. We have good moments, no doubt. We laugh, we love, we play. All too often, though, we don't. Instead we argue, we struggle, we worry. We feel overwhelmed by our tasks, lost in our responsibilities. We lay our heads down to rest but find we can't.


We react by checking out. We watch T.V. or surf the web. We call a friend to gossip. We drink. We eat too much. We shop. We make excuses for it all. Life is too hard. We need a break.


But none of our reacting heals the wound. Our lives continue to feel incomplete, sometimes even in the good times.


The truth is, Lent does not offer up something new; rather, it holds a mirror up to my life as it is. The remedy is not to turn away, but courageously to look at our own reflections.


Below are a series of questions for reflection and journalling or talking over with a friend or a spiritual director. How have you encountered your personal lenten seasons?



Find a quiet place to be. Spend a few moments becoming present to yourself. Notice how it feels to be in your body, in this place, at this time.


Even if you're not sure there's anyone listening, invite God to be present with you.


Reflect on these questions:


When you consider the themes of Lent -- fasting, mourning, almsgiving, sin, repentance, prayer -- does any attract you? Repel you?


When have you experienced a season of lent in your life, a time when you were called on to fast or mourn or give away what you would rather have kept? How did you respond?


What are the struggles in your life today? What are the joys?


How do you check out of your own life? When or under what circumstances? How do you feel when you reflect back on those times?


If you hold a mirror up to your life, what do you see looking back at you? How do you feel about it?


When you have answered these questions in your thoughts or in writing, pause and again become present to yourself and to God. What do you notice?


We often need support to explore these questions about our lives. Spiritual direction can help. Click to contact us.

  • cmcsullivan

I'm addicted to caffeine. According to the internet, my addiction is shared by roughly 90% of adults in the U.S. Such a statistic begs the question: What's the big deal? Caffeine is readily available. It improves focus and attention. Its delivery systems -- coffee, tea, chocolate -- are among life's pleasures. So you might well wonder why I have again begun a periodic weaning from the stuff, to be followed, if all goes according to plan, by several weeks or months of abstinence.


I ❤️Coffee

I treasure the morning coffee ritual. My husband, a serious coffee aficionado, grinds the beans, brews the grounds, heats the cups, pours the coffee. Just writing these words, I feel sad, thinking about missing out on this solemn daily ceremony, My husband loves me through our morning coffee.


In the spirit of sacrifice and self-control, I still undertake a coffee fast from time to time, often around Lent, which begins next Wednesday. This year my motivation is not simply to divest myself of pleasure. In fact, I have undertaken to discover things I genuinely enjoy as a spiritual practice. In this, my personal de-caffeination exercise is counter-intuitive.


So why do it?


Unfree

I don't only drink morning coffee for the joy of the ritual. I drink it because I'm hooked. When I have broken earlier caffeine fasts, I might start with black tea. Just one cup of coffee, only on Saturday morning,. Okay, Saturday and Sunday. Then Friday and Thursday and Wednesday and Tuesday and Monday. First one cup, then one and a half, then two, two and a half. Caffeine isn't cocaine, you might say. What's the big deal?


The big deal is that I'm not free. From that first cup, I'm increasingly not free to stop. I'm not free to stick with tea or Saturdays or one cup. I'm addicted. I've given over some of my freedom to the chemical habituation that caffeine produces.

If I skip a day, I pay, as does everyone around me, as the headaches, irritability, and foggy thinking take over. I'm no longer in control of myself. Caffeine has taken over.



Unintended Consequences

Maybe for you it isn't caffeine. Maybe it's alcohol. Or internet pornography. Or shopping. Or scrolling social media. We can compare, rationalize. Mine isn't as bad as hers. But none of this is freedom.


My addictions to substances or behaviors -- and I have others -- cloud my self-awareness. I use these things, consciously and unconsciously, to mask what I don't want to see. They blunt my feelings, occupy my time, keep me company. They provide background noise that allows me to avoid a silence in which I might hear things that trouble me or that I don't know how to address.


Pushing back against our addictions isn't easy, in part because they are more symptom than disease. The disease is our dis-ease with the true nature of our human condition. Our pain is real, and so we seek, not irrationally, to cover it, hide from it, and avoid it with whatever means we can. These coping strategies may have been the best we could do to allow us to function within the confines of circumstances that we didn't know how to handle. They were the solution, until they became the problem.


Freedom is the goal

Growth in freedom requires the courage to become self-aware. It can be enough of a first step to recognize the things we do compulsively. What do I do because I don't know how to stop? What behaviors do I justify, even as I know they cause me unhappiness? The challenge, the invitation, is to notice these actions without immediately judging or trying to fix them.*


If we're going to find deep and lasting healing, it's essential that we allow ourselves time to consider what these behaviors are helping us to hide and hide from. Otherwise we will likely relapse or replace our current strategies with new ones, equally designed to cover up the underlying wounds and pain, doomed to become the next problem in need of a fix.


We can practice noticing our own behavior and learn to pause to discover what triggers that behavior. We can begin to experience our feelings instead of denying or covering them up. This process takes time, patience, and above all, an environment where grace and mercy can triumph over judgment. The help of a qualified therapist or spiritual director can be essential to the healing process.


For freedom Christ has set us free. - Galatians 5:1


Ultimately, the point is not whether it's virtuous or vicious to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning. The question is, am I free from the compulsion to do so? Am I enjoying that coffee for its own sake, or am I using it to distract me from thoughts and feelings, to excuse me from taking new action in my own best interest, action that will allow me to live out my life's purpose? Am I drinking that coffee enslaved or free?





*Certain behaviors may require immediate intervention. Suicidal ideation, cutting, anorexia and bulimia, abuse of alcohol or drugs and other such coping strategies require the support of qualified medical professionals, therapists and/or support groups.


For immediate crisis support for you or someone you know, call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

or text 741741. For more information about mental health resources, visit https://www.mentalhealth.gov/.



Compassion. Encouragement. Challenge.

720-226-2264 * chris@livingthetruthinlove.org * Lakewood Colorado