Posts Tagged ‘fast

03
Apr
22

Lent and the GTS

The ubiquitous logo

I miss Facebook.

You see, my chosen Lenten discipline this year was pursuing a fast (i.e., a period of intentional self-denial) from Facebook. Facebook had become something I found myself being sucked into WAAAAY too often. I rationalized that I used it mainly to stay in touch with out-of-state family members. But the truth is, I used it for many other purposes… most of which were much less noble than I was willing to admit.

But mainly, Facebook had become a GIGANTIC TIME SUCK (GTS) and I decided I needed to forcefully wean myself from for a time.

Thank you, Lenten fasting discipline. Your timing was perfect.

For the first four or five days, it was rough. Gone were the photos of other people’s dream vacations and new toys. “Adios” to the truly groan-worthy puns and memes. Vanished in a puff of smoke were those ill-informed political opinions – and sports takes – that I so enjoyed ripping into and exposing the fallacy of. 

And believe it or not, I really came to miss those times when friends would post truly profound truths about life that made me pause, scratch my chin, and say, “Hmmmm. Never thought of it that way before.”

And oh yes… this “fast” has also caused me to live without those delightful pictures of grandchildren, siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews that so regularly warm the cockles of my heart. 

Who am I kidding… here now on Day 33 of my fast, it is still rough. Every day I have the sense that some genuinely good “stuff” is passing me by… never to be seen again.

At the same time, I don’t miss Facebook AT ALL!

I don’t miss all the trivial nonsense. I don’t miss the disruptive ads. I don’t miss the pointless bickering, based on the mistaken notion that it is possible to argue someone over to your side of any question. I don’t miss the “VagueBook” postings that make me guess where that picture was taken, or what that bizarre phrase really means. I don’t miss the invitations to jump into a multi-level marketing scheme. I don’t miss the crowing, “Hey! Look what WE’RE doing right now! Don’t you wish you were this cool, too??” posts. 

But most of all, I don’t miss the GIGANTIC TIME SUCK (GTS) Facebook had become in my life.

They warned me about it before I even signed up. But did I listen? NOOOO! “I’m too smart for that,” I replied, with a thinly disguised air of superiority. “I’ll be the master of my own domain. I won’t fall for those schemes designed to draw me in and trap me. I am immune to their fiendish addiction tricks.”

As it turned out, I wasn’t immune. 

Not at all.

Which is really the point of any kind of fast, isn’t it? When we become so dependent on a THING that we imagine that we can’t do without it (of course except for essential things like air, water, food, God, and human community), it might be a signal that it is time to take a step back and reevaluate our affections. To ask ourselves, “Is that _____ really that important, in the grand scheme of things? Do I really need it as much as I think I do?”

I know – without the slightest shadow of a doubt – that the very SECOND Lent is over (on Easter morning, April 17, 2022), I will be eagerly scrolling through to see what I missed. I will lap up all those vacation photos, corny memes, passionate political punditry, and hot sports takes like a man in the desert laps up water. 

I am a bit ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.

But hopefully, in the meantime, I will have gained a little distance. Maybe this period of intentional denial will teach me to stop for a beat or two before diving so readily into this (or any) form of electronic voyeurism. 

Maybe I will emerge from this fast on Easter morning with a new commitment to things like silence… reflection… prayer… listening… meditation… and rest.

It’s a long shot, but who knows?

After all, this is the time of year of resurrection and new birth, isn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

21
Dec
21

Slow Down, Cowboy

Time passes.

Things change.

The fresh, new, and exciting slowly becomes the stale, old, and predictable. 

Energy that once sprang from a bottomless reservoir now trickles sparingly, as if dripping from a clogged waterspout.

Possibilities begin winking out one by one… like the lights of a remote fishing village moving from midnight to pre-dawn.

The same applies to me. Early in my career as a human, I used to walk fast. Stride, stride, stride, stride. Vigorous. Purposeful. Always in a hurry. Never quite enough time to get from Point A to Point B. Checking my watch and multitasking as I went.

I’m sure you’ve heard footsteps of the kind of person I used to be. Whenever I heard those staccato, purposeful steps approaching me from behind, I always had to turn my head. My first thought was usually, “I wonder if I am about to be mugged.” But then I relaxed, realizing it’s just someone on their way to somewhere.

Lately, though, I have slowed down.

Considerably.

I first throttled down from FULL to ¾ speed when I retired. Though I no longer had any place I needed to be RIGHT NOW, I wanted to continue living with a sense of urgency… taking nothing for granted… drinking deeply from each day’s bubbling fountain.

But then came the excruciating lower back pain in early May, slowing me – LITERALLY some days – to a crawl.

Today my back is a bit better, thanks. Treatments, injections, massages, adjustments, exercise, and even some wacky stuff have all helped. But despite that improvement, I continue to be a slow walker. 

Now I take my time getting from here to there. 

I breathe deeply along the way. I look around. I study the trees, yards, houses, dogs, and people I pass. I let them speak to me. I treat them the way a trained sommelier treats that first mouthful of wine from a newly opened bottle of 1949 Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru. (Not that we have that vintage on the shelf here at Chez Brown. I just Googled, “What is the name of a really expensive wine,” et VOILA!)

Since I just celebrated a significant birthday yesterday (one that ends in a “0”), I have declared to myself that I am absolutely permitted to slow down a bit. 

I am still – hopefully – a long way away from adopting the Old Man Shuffle step. But fair warning! If you are a young, busy career person dashing through the aisles of the grocery store to pick up a few things on the way home, you DON’T want to be stuck behind me.

As I pause and think about it, I must admit; I am coming to like this new, slower, more deliberate me. But it does seem odd in a way. Younger me… the one with a whole lifetime ahead of him… was always in a hurry to get somewhere. Whereas older me… the one whose days here in this vail of tears are MUCH more numbered… is very OK with taking it slow and easy. 

NEWS FLASH: In case you haven’t guessed, NONE of these reflections are at all new or earth-shattering in their significance.

Jesus – the guy whose mission was to save Creation – regularly carved himself out times of quiet, stillness and solitude. Long before Jesus’ time the psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, NRSV). And let’s not forget the story about Elijah’s flight from the wrath of Queen Jezebel when he met God in the middle of the “sheer silence.” (1 Kings 19:12, NRSV) in the desert. 

No… while the notion of slowing down and smelling the coffee may not be new or revolutionary, it is somewhat noteworthy that I have finally stumbled upon it. 

And if I REALLY want to complete the “old guy trifecta,” I will next take up whittling and golf. 

Abundant blessings;

03
Aug
21

How Urgent?

If you know me, you know that I walk fast.

That is, I used to walk fast. That was before I became “The Brokeback Guy” in early May.

You will also know that I drive fast. If you doubt my word, just ask Joan. She will set you straight.

I also write fast. 

I drink fast, I eat fast, and sometimes I even talk fast.

As I was out walking the other day, I had to slow my roll considerably because of my aching back. As I slowed from a gallop to a leisurely canter, I thought to myself, “Hey! This slower, more relaxed pace isn’t so bad after all. I can actually see and appreciate my surroundings. Oh look… there’s a hummingbird!!”

I was also prompted to wonder what the rush was in the first place. 

This all prompted me to think back to a conversation I once had with a guy who did a lot of hiring for a Kansas City-based advertising agency. He told me that for him, the quality that drew him most readily to a candidate was – in his words – “a sense of urgency.”

He really liked the idea of hiring someone who he felt was eager and passionate about the work… who could not wait to dive into a project and ardently see it through to completion. 

And I have to say, for most of my working life, that was a great description of the way I approached my daily doings.

While I appreciate the value of living with a sense of urgency, I am also reminded of just how easy it is to bestow the “urgent” status on just about anything. I’d love to develop the discipline of asking:

  • Is it really urgent that I answer that email?
  • Is it really urgent that I make that green light?
  • Is it really, truly urgent that I put the toaster back where it came from?
  • Etc., etc.

Steven Covey tried to teach me and 25 million other people to discern between the URGENT and the IMPORTANT matters in life in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is a profound insight and one that can radically reshape the way we work and live. I tried to apply it as a working person, and now find it is just as important a lesson in my life as a retired guy. 

But as a person of faith, I also need to know what God has to say on the matter. What might the Good Book have to say on the topic of The Proper Pace for Living?

Let’s see… there is Proverbs 20:21 that says, “An estate quickly acquired in the beginning will not be blessed in the end.”

There is this advice from James, the brother of Jesus, who advised, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19, NRSV).

If we look in David’s collection of 150 unique Psalms, we find countless reminders of the need to slow down and savor each moment of our fleeting time here on earth. Psalm 103, for example, tells us, “As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSV).

Reading these and others begins to give me the impression that God is much more interested in steering me toward life’s QUALITY rather than QUANTITY

I mean, yes, I might proudly hold up a long, completed “TO DO” list at the end of the day. But if I achieved that by buzzing through and ignoring the majesty of Creation spread out all around me, what good is it?

Well, I really need to get on with the day and tend to a bunch of other stuff. But – with God’s help – I will try to slow down and smell the coffee along the way.

Abundant blessings;

17
Jun
21

In Praise of Slow

Normally, I am a pretty fast guy.

Mmmmmm!!

I walk fast.

I drive fast (much to Joan’s great displeasure).

I eat fast and drink fast.

I cook fast, I wash the dishes fast, and I make my bed fast.

I even read fast.

I was always the guy who had too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. Somehow, even though I have been retired now for almost two years, I still carry on in the same way.

Since May 4 of this year, however, all of that has changed DRAMATICALLY.

The issues I have been having with the pain in my lower back have forced me to follow the wise guidance of Simon and Garfunkel when they sing, “Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the morning last!” 

They are right about that part. But I’m not sure I am on board with the song’s chorus: “ALL IS GROOVY!”

Every day, somewhere around 10:00 a.m. when the muscle relaxers and pain meds finally kick in, I venture out for a little walk in the neighborhood. But I have to walk REALLY slowly. You would be forgiven for chuckling as you watch me out there… taking my mincing, shuffling, “little old man” steps. 

Then it is back home for a 20-minute session with the ice pack.

In many ways, this enforced slowdown is very aggravating. I mean, we are finally coming out of the dark tunnel of the COVID-19 pandemic when things are opening back up, and here I am, sidelined by this ridiculous, relentless PAIN!!

But you know what? I am slowly discovering that there are some hidden gifts that come when I take life at a slower pace. 

  • I see more of my surroundings
  • I have longer conversations with my neighbors
  • I feel zero guilt about sitting down and cracking open a book in the middle of the day
  • I note and appreciate the different hues of each hour of the day
  • This new pace of mine allows me to turn the tables and give Joan the opportunity to be MY caretaker for a while.
  • But most importantly, I find that I am much more likely to use these slow, unscheduled moments to pause and connect with God… in prayer or quiet reflection.

Looking in at the life of the man who drew the BC/AD dividing line through human history, we find that HE had a finely tuned appreciation for life in the slow lane, too. The Bible records at least 21 separate instances like this one in Luke’s gospel where we read: “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12, NRSV). 

Jesus sounds ardently anti-hustle-bustle in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27, NRSV).

Despite these manifold spirit-nurturing benefits, I absolutely will NOT accept the premise that God sent me this back pain as a hard-to-miss lesson about slowing down and smelling the roses. 

On the contrary, this dilemma is all about the accumulated effects of genetics, years of bad posture and overdoing, mixed in with a touch of Ol’ Uncle Arthur. 

God is the one who stands with me in my pain and whispers, “I know this thing with your back sucks right now, but I AM and ALWAYS HAVE BEEN in the redemption business. Tune in and I will help you make a sweet pitcher of lemonade out of this lemon you’ve been handed.”

And you know what? God is there with you too, whispering the same thing. 

All we need to do is slow down and LISTEN!

Abundant blessings;

22
Feb
18

Spring, Soil, and Seeds

seed2tree2I’m getting the bug.

The spring-cleaning bug, that is.

Partly because there are several places in my home that are really messy and cluttered and in great need of cleaning. [Looking at you, garage!]

But my hygiene zeal also comes from the fact that if I am doing spring-cleaning, it means it is SPRING! And after a winter like this one, spring can’t get here quickly enough.

But this time, when the dust starts flying, I am going to do things a little differently, I’ve decided.

I am going to sweep up all the dust and gather all of the unused, outdated, broken, surplus, and superfluous contents of my house into one place.

Then I am going to get them all out of here… far from my sight.

And exactly 40 days later, I am going to bring them all back in and put them right back where I found them.

“Excuse me?” you say. “You’re going to do WHAT???”

I know. Sounds weird, doesn’t it.

But doesn’t this approach to spring cleaning bear some resemblance to the way Christians approach the season of Lent?

To wit: in the true Lenten spirit of self-examination and repentance, a devout Christian begins this sacred season by identifying something in his or her life that is “out of whack”… or in need of cleaning, if you will.

Maybe that thing is over-eating. Maybe it’s gossiping. Perhaps it is excessive use of social media, smoking, casino gambling, or nose picking.

He or she will then amass all the self-discipline and moral vigor they can muster and vow to “give it up for Lent.”

Those of us “on the fast” then grimace in pain as the dessert cart wheels by our table, hoping someone will ask us, “Aren’t you going to have any?” so that we can steeple our fingers, look heavenward, and say, “No. Sorry. I gave up tiramisu for Lent.”

We can’t wait for Easter Sunday to arrive.

Yes, certainly, because it means we can once again be reminded of and celebrate Christ’s victory over the grave. But MOSTLY because Easter means we can stop tormenting ourselves with all this DENIAL and go back to the gluttony we’ve become accustomed to.

Seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Because really… if we made the decision that this “something” we gave up is corrosive enough to our souls to do away with for 40 days (not counting Sundays, of course!), why would we want to open the door and bring it back in AT ALL??

OR… is it possible that the “spring cleaning” approach to the Lenten fast is a bit misguided?

IS IT POSSIBLE that we might be called to think of the Lenten fast as less of a short-term, temporary, self-improvement program and perhaps see it more as a time to dig a little deeper… pause a little longer… pray with a little more intentionality… or reflect a little more honestly?

It might just be that the Parable of the Seeds and the Soils (found in the 13th chapter of Matthew) sheds helpful light on a better way to understand the purpose of the Lenten fast. If you remember that parable, you know that handfuls of seed sowed by the same farmer produced vastly different results.

It was the same farmer and the same seed in all five scenarios. The thing that was different – the reason the seed either shriveled and died, or did not sprout at all or sprouted, took root, and produced a MASSIVE crop – was the SOIL.

Maybe the Lenten fast has more to do with properly preparing the soil of our hearts to receive the seeds that the Farmer is getting ready to sow there.

What do you think?




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