Lenting Habits

lentChecking back over my blog, it’s easy to tell it’s that time of year again. Almost a year ago, I made a post talking about rest that ended with my announcing I’d be taking a bit of a rest from my writing because it was becoming more tiresome than anything. I am feeling that hard now, even as I type, and that is probably apparent in the fact that I have hardly posted throughout the whole month of February.

Things are hectic these days. Productive in several arenas, but hectic. I just put out a new album with my band, No Pun Intended (which is free and can be found here), I began production on the ACU Film Fest short film my friends and I are putting together, and I’m trying to put my nose to the grindstone on my presence and intentionality with my residents.

And yet, for Lent, I’ve decided to give up naps this year.

Naps and I have a long love affair. I wasn’t the kid who will say he hated nap time in kindergarten. That time was my freaking jam. My plastic mat was comfy, I had my comfort blanket, Wooby, and sometimes the girl who laid her mattress down next to mine would lean over for a peck before we went to sleep. For those of you following the continuity of my early childhood romances, yes, this was in the midst of my liking Susan, my best friend at the time. But come on, I was 6 and my heart beat to such frenzied drums that my affections couldn’t be expected to be tethered to the rhythm of monogamy.

We took a break for a while, naps and I, until 10th grade. Not to get into the gritty details, but I was a sad person in 10th grade. We’ll leave it at that. So, both to fill my time and to pursue the hope of waking up more refreshed, I filled my afternoons with naps. Every day. And even though they didn’t renew me, at least not to the extent I’d hoped, I kept on blocking out my afternoons with naps. And it didn’t really stop, even after I became a “less sad” person.

And that cycle has carried over, pretty much to now. I made a resolution to stop napping at New Years and quickly found myself breaking it. My semester is jam-packed with schoolwork, my job, my other job, personal projects, personal reading, and personal relationships, and if I don’t take a nap, I feel like I won’t have my best self to give to people. What I often overlook is the fact that I spend so much time napping, I don’t put myself in an advantageous position to give myself to people regardless.

At the end of Christmas break, some of my friends stayed at my house for the better part of a week as we attended NCYM, the National Conference for Youth Ministries. We’re all youth and fam majors, three of us on the verge of graduating and being thrown out into the real world, so, hey, might as well network and pretend we’re already the real deal, right?

The theme of the conference was “Presence,” and worked primarily out of Exodus 33:14-15. If there’s one thing I’ve learned both from classes and being surrounded by hundreds of professional youth ministers, it’s that rest and self care absolutely cannot be overlooked. This is one of the most challenging components of ministry to me, because if there’s one person everyone is an exceptional liar to, it’s themselves. That may be a hasty generalization to make, but I know it’s certainly true for myself. I can wake up every morning and say “I’m good, I’m walking closely with the Lord, and I am ready to go,” and invest all my cards in that, regardless of what my relationship with God looks like at the moment. More often than not, in those moments, it may not be that my relationship looks bad, but that I wouldn’t be able to tell you how it looks at all if you were to ask me.

In those key passages from the conference, Moses declares that Israel will not move unless God goes with them. And God promises presence and rest for his people. Those two must be paired both in receiving and in giving. God’s presence in our lives ensures rest. And at the same time, for us to do God’s work and bring His presence, we must work out of a place of rest.

So that is why I have chosen to give up my naps. I may be gaining physical sleep, physical rest, but spiritual assurance and peace is far more beneficial to myself and those around me to whom I attempt to show Christ every day.

I’m no Lent scholar. I’m fairly new to the tradition and haven’t thoroughly or deeply delved into its history, purpose, forms, etc. But one thing I do know is that it’s parallel to Advent in that it is a season of anticipation leading into a profound and formative event in the Christian faith. For Advent, that is Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s incarnation, and for Lent, it’s Easter, the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf.

One of my professors posed a question to all of his classes this week that went something like, “What are you hoping or planning to accomplish by doing the things that you’re spending your time doing?” I often feel desensitized to that sort of question. I’m blessed to be a part of a couple groups that hold intentionality as an exceptionally high priority in relationships and ministry, so articulating why we do what we do is nothing terribly novel. But when it comes to my own personal life, that sort of analysis, I realized, is conspicuously absent.

This is where that great lie comes in again. As far as I can tell myself, in any given moment, I am A-OK. But when I ask myself what I’m trying to accomplish by taking naps, or by doing any activity that I may give up for Lent, I find that my motives are seldom pure or intentional. I take naps to escape. I watch Netflix to escape. I go on social media to gauge the attitudes of those around me so that I know who I disagree with, why my opinion is right, and what sort of joke I can make to get the most positive feedback.

There’s one trend in Lent that I’ve noticed lately of taking on a discipline rather than giving something up. And this is great. If this is a season of anticipation, what better way to live into that than to expand your experience and pursuit of God? At the same time, though, I’m challenged by what this method suggests about the opposite. If we’re giving things up, what are we doing it for? To me, the purpose of the sacrifice is to center ourselves more completely on Christ, to live into that anticipation more fully by replacing something we’re invested in with the pursuit of God’s heart. Did the practice of taking on rather than giving up come from an observation that the giving up was the point? Again, I’m no Lent scholar, but I don’t know that this season’s purpose should be an either/or affair, but rather a both/and.

Again, ask the question: what are we hoping to accomplish in doing what we’re doing? If we’re giving something up, how do we turn that from a passive sacrifice into an active pursuit? If we’re taking on new practices, how do we separate these practices, make them a holy experience so that we don’t forget the purpose of taking them on in the first place?

By taking away naps, I give myself more time to write, to leave my door open and be hospitable to my residents, and to get work done efficiently so that I can actually have free time to manage. And so far that’s also difficult. My own comfort has become a drug that I’m having withdrawals from, but ultimately I know this isn’t for me in the way that I know myself. The way I know myself tells me I’m alright and being intentional with my time with God even when I’m clearly not.

This is for a part of myself I’m anticipating in the same way I’m anticipating the celebration of Easter. This is the part of myself that resists the snooze button when he wakes up so that he can have 10 extra minutes with God in the morning to pray and read Ecclesiastes. This is the part of me that sets a bedtime so that I can read at night, both the Bible and novels for the sake of my own personal enrichment, and make sure I’m providing enough for myself to be physically able, but depend on God for spiritual sustenance.

I’m looking forward to the day I stop anticipating my next nap, and instead anticipate rest and the presence of my Lord.

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