I woke up this morning in the pitch black.
At 4:30am in the Midwest, knee-deep in the throws of February winter, it's cold and hard to kick your own ass out of bed.
Half awake, stumbling to the coffee pot, I remembered that today marks Ash Wednesday...the beginning of the Lenten journey.
On this day, believers in Jesus Christ gather to honor the 40 days that he spent in the desert fasting while growing closer to God and seeking to resist the temptation of Satan. Christians begin this process with a blessing of ashes (derived from palm branches of the previous years' Palm Sunday) and are encouraged to both repent and believe. The Lenten journey serves as preparation for Jesus' crucifixion on earth, redemption and transcendence into Heaven, Easter.
Every year, I seek to find a meaningful way to make the 40-days matter. I've vacillated between giving-up certain foods or behaviors to doing something like writing letters of gratitude or focusing my prayer life. You name it...over the last 40 years of life, I've probably done it.
This year, I was scrambling.
And so, I went for a run at o'dark thirty this morning and thought.
As I was sweating and carrying out the miles, it struck me how extraordinarily hard it is to be in the moment. When things are going really well, I'm secretly convinced that the other shoe is about to drop. If things are not going so well, I'm feverishly devising strategies in my mind to make them better. And frequently, when I can't make something better immediately, I get anxious and fall back on my go-to coping mechanisms which in the end, never solve the dilemma.
This is the nature of life. The push-pull, distractional tug of living out the journey. Most everyone I know feels it. We all struggle with balancing the demands of careers, children, health concerns, aging parents, physical fitness, paying bills and having fun. We're punished for embracing the moment because the world tells us that successful people are always two steps ahead. So, we never fully inhabit exactly where we are...the good and the bad.
Three miles into the run, I was in pain...side ache, unbalanced breathing, massive amounts of sweat...I wanted to bag the remainder of the workout and sit on the couch drowning my sorrows in hot coffee.
But for one second, I slowed my pace, breathed in through my nose and out my mouth and started talking to myself, "What are you scared about? You've been here before. You can do this. It may not be fast or graceful or look like it's looked in the past, but it will happen because you are at the helm. Make a choice right now to feel what you're feeling and not to mask it. Own where you are."
After I finished the run, it hit me that most of life is honoring exactly where you are, at any given time. It may not (and often isn't) what you ordered up or what you'd prefer or what you deserve or where you thought you'd be, but it is the truth. The truth of the now and it's happening whether you mask it with something so as not to feel it...it will still be here.
In the midst of the noise and the distraction, our most important human job is to own the very moment that we are in for all that it is...so as not to project ugliness, fear, insecurity, anger, entitlement onto those who engage us because we can't honor our own space.
And so for me, the 40-day Lenten journey is about very specifically being in dialogue with myself about my life...when fear emerges about fill-in the blank...parenting, finances, work, my body, my marriage...I sit with it. I feel it. I honor it. I experience it. I don't mask. I bring it into the light.
Here's to the beginning...