I’m giving up worrying for Lent. I’m not a constant worrier, but I do have my list: the personal – my father’s health, my children’s future, my retirement funding. The daily—how will traffic be, will my plane be late, will I finish that article on time. The big picture—the future of the church, the nature of discourse in America, the environment.
Rev. John Polite, pastor of Panorama Baptist Church in Arleta, CA, told me the other day that he doesn’t see the point of giving up something for Lent that you’re just going to start up again after Easter. At his church, they encourage people to give up something for Lent that they truly want to give up for the long term. When I got the idea to give up worry for Lent, I remembered what John said. It’s true I’ve found spiritual value in fasting at Lent, whether from chocolate or my favorite books. Yet I do want to give up worry for the long term. Living in the moment is the great spiritual task, and worry is an anxious focus on the past (“I wish I hadn’t done that….”) or an imaginary future (“what if…”).
The next day, I came across a wonderful article by Lauren Winner in the February 8 Christian Century, “My Lenten fast.” She describes her long relationship with anxiety, and her decision, at a friend’s suggestion, to give it up for Lent. Winner uses the ancient Christian Desert Fathers as a way to take on this practice. “The desert saints said that the beginning of renouncing a thought is simply noticing it.” This was my initial plan for giving up worry. But Winner goes on to say that the Desert Fathers suggest that after noticing a thought, replace it with a prayer.
So this is the practice I’m undertaking. I decided not to wait until Ash Wednesday, and so I started last week when I had several plane rides. When I had my usual travel thought, “What if the plane gets delayed?” I tried to remember to pray instead, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” I had a different experience of travel. I was calmer, had more fun, was more attentive to my seatmates.
What are your perennial worries? How might you take them to prayer?