|The Rev. Frank Dunn|
To spark Lenten reflection, the most useful question I know is, “What part of your life is over-lived and what part is under-lived?” What do I have or do that I need to shed, and what do I lack that I need? This question is different from asking such things as what I need to give up for the sake of becoming a thinner or healthier or better or more moral or more pious person. To view life as possibly over-lived or under-lived is to presume that balance is a good thing. And Lent can profitably be a time to bring one’s life into balance.
But I have a problem with the process if it just another exercise in which I subjectively evaluate myself. What about my blind spots?What about the ways in which my life may be terribly out of balance but because I have nothing to measure it by, I can simply continue in the delusion that I am balanced just fine? Might I just spend my time and effort tinkering with minor things while ignoring whole parts of my life that are seriously out of whack in a way I cannot recognize? Some would argue that we can only do something about those things of which we are conscious. So maybe a conversation with a trusted friend—maybe a soul friend—would help me see where I am blind.
Serious Christians sometimes think that the under-lived part of life must be where they ought to live. So the social activist imagines sometimes that she really would be more holy as a contemplative. And the monk imagines perhaps that he would better do God’s will to leave the cloister and live amidst the urban poor. Laypersons imagine that they could live Christ’s life better if they were ordained, and the ordained sometimes lament the loss of mobility and freedom they had as lay persons. That is not about balance. It is a failure to grasp the wisdom in “Bloom where you are planted.”
Balancing our lives involves not necessarily changing our scripts but moving towards a greater wholeness. One of the best Lents I ever spent was a year in which I took an hour every day and went home and read fiction. Another great Lent, believe it or not, was when I took a vacation and spent a week in a warm climate being utterly rejuvenated. Very different was the season in which I carved out with my congregation a piece of social action that we did together, a much needed foray into a world beyond our self-occupation. One of my friends gave up anxiety for Lent. Another took on compassion.
What do you have too much of? Too little of? Would you be more balanced if you spent less time answering emails and more listening to your kids? Would balance likely come if you pondered how you might contribute to peace initiatives in the Middle East or if you took a Sunday to serve meals in a soup kitchen? Or do you need to take a break from stewing about church matters and go soak for a day in a spa?
Maybe God is not so tickled when we are bent double in prayer as God is about the truth that we are made for wholeness. Perhaps the Lent we need is the Lent that fills up the empty spaces and empties the crowded spaces so that we are less lopsided, more smooth, more like the one whose image and sign we bear.
Frank Dunn is the senior priest at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in Columbia Heights.