As I write this, the wind is shrieking outside my window, rattling the siding and windows. Although my home is reasonably new and well insulated, if I hold my hand against the door frame I can feel cold air pushing through. Until my family moved to Iowa nearly eight years ago, never had I experienced the 30-40 mph sustained winds with 50-60 mph gusts that are not at all uncommon here. Snow and rain blow sideways, and the birds struggle not to get pushed backward. What a day!
The rushing wind brings to mind a story from the book of Acts: “When the day of Pentecost came, they [the apostles] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:1-4a New International Version).
Last week the Christian church all over the world observed Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent, the forty days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. It is a time for us to reflect on our faith walk and to prepare our hearts for both the sorrow and joy we will experience as we commemorate our Lord’s last meal with his disciples, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion, and, finally, his resurrection. During last Wednesday’s service, many of the faithful had the sign of the cross traced onto their foreheads with ashes, a symbol of mourning and a prompt toward sober reflection. The cross marks us as believers and followers of Jesus. Although we enjoy celebrating the joyful occasions, we are a people who must also remember and grieve the sorrowful ones.
That cross made of ash is an external, though temporary, mark. There is a more important mark that does not appear on our flesh; rather, it is evident in how we live our lives. The apostle Paul exhorts the church at Ephesus: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:30-32 NIV). We are marked with the Holy Spirit, a sign to us of our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. And what was done at the moment of our surrender to God through confession cannot be easily undone. Once we have invited Jesus to capture our hearts and rescue us from our sin, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, and we are indelibly marked.
One Lenten tradition is to give up something that you feel has become an obstacle to a closer relationship with Jesus. I’ve never felt compelled to do this before; usually I just try to re-commit to the disciplines: studying the scriptures, praying, worshipping regularly with my church, serving in my community. But this year I realized that I had let my computer take over my life. It serves a useful purpose (this blog, for instance), but it also had become a black hole that consumed too much of my time and attention. Giving up the computer entirely was not practical, but I could give up one aspect of it that had become a big time waster for me: Facebook. I resisted joining Facebook for a long time, but I finally gave in last year. It’s fun to keep up with old and new friends and to share interesting things we find on the internet, but I was using it as a way to avoid doing other things, particularly the work of figuring out who I am meant to be.
I confess, I am a big procrastinator, and if I can immerse myself in one thing, I can easily justify not doing something else. But as I have written here before, I am on a quest of self-discovery, and I realized that I will not find myself on my Facebook wall. So for Lent this year, I gave up Facebook. It wasn’t that difficult. I am still reachable by email, phone, and text. I do miss reading all the interesting things my friends post, but I can let that go for 40 (or so) days. The trick is not to replace my Facebook time with other equally wasteful things. Every day I have to remind myself that the whole reason I gave that up is to focus on who God is in my life and who I am becoming and whether I am moving in the right direction or any direction at all. I realized that I have allowed myself to get stuck, and something will have to happen to un-stick me, and that something is not likely to happen if I am glued to the computer watching silly cat videos (which I admit I have a weakness for!).
Come, Lord Jesus. Capture my heart anew. Retrace the indelible mark of your Spirit within me. Rescue me, I pray, from fear, from worry, from the noise inside my busy head, and let my thoughts, my words, and my actions be pleasing to you. Make me into the person you know I can be. I surrender.