Lenten Reflections: The Familiar, Central Park, and Fasting, Oh My!

Today’s guest blogger is my bestie from college, Amanda Marshall. She is an ordained minister and currently serves as a children’s pastor at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She has worked in children’s ministry for a long time, and she’s also been a missionary in the Middle East. She is very creative, likes to travel, and writes beautiful poetry. Amanda blogs at Murphy’s Law Translated.

The Familiar, Central Park, and Fasting, Oh My!

Familiarity breeds contempt.  It’s a phrase a phrase we’re all . . . eh, familiar with.  But it’s true.  The more time we spend with someone, the less we notice their value.  It’s why wives complain that their husbands are ungrateful for all the hard work they put into managing a household.  It’s why teenagers scream “I hate you!” to the parents they once cried out for when monsters lurked under their beds.  It’s why friendships sour, marriages stagnate, parents become alienated, people grow lonely.  Too often the people we actually care for the most bear the brunt of our anger, pain, and frustration.  Not because we don’t love them.  Because we don’t cherish them.  Because we forget that there is a beauty to be found in absence.  In space.  In rest.

Here at The Iris Chronicles you are privileged to hear the thought-provoking musings and inspired poetry of Karissa.  Count yourself blessed.  She’s pretty incredible.  (She didn’t even pay me to say that.)  Karissa and I have been friends for almost fifteen years now.  We were ten at the time – don’t even try to argue, because there’s no way I’m admitting I’m any older.  Back when we were mere babes, we decided to take a vacation together to New York City.  It was a dream of mine.  I’m not sure if she was really as excited as I was, or if she just let me pull her along for the ride.  We strolled through the museum at the Statue of Liberty, we ate amazing pasta at this place in Little Italy, we saw two incredible shows on Broadway, drank frozen hot chocolates at Serendipity, and stayed in the coolest little boutique hotel that was so small we had to scoot sideways through three inches of space between the bed and the wall to get to the bathroom.  And we also had a knock-down, drag-out fight in Central Park.

Well, kind of.  I mean, there were no right hooks or black eyes involved, but it did get pretty ugly for a while.   We had been wandering through the park for quite some time and we were getting hot and tired.  And hungry.  And a little cranky.  So we decided to leave the park.  There was only one problem.  We couldn’t get out!  We walked for twenty minutes only to find ourselves even deeper in the urban jungle.  We tried to read the maps, but since we didn’t know where we were to begin with, they weren’t much help.  We tried to flag down the natives, but they just looked at us and ran the other way.  And so, eventually, we did what any sane people would do in that situation.  We turned on each other.  We began slinging words and thinly veiled insults like a preschooler with a gallon of paint and no adult supervision.  It got ugly fast.  Pretty soon we ended up sitting down on a bench in the park, refusing to move, and refusing to talk.  I don’t know how long we sat there.  We must have looked absurd to all those people calmly strolling along with their dogs.  Or maybe we just looked like normal, anti-social bench-sitters.

Eventually we did make up.  And we found our way through the maze until we landed at a magical kingdom known as the Tavern on the Green where they served us beautiful little sandwiches and refreshing beverages under a canopy of lights and flowers.  (I’m convinced this is the place Alice refers to as “Wonderland.”  White Rabbits and Mad Hatters would fit right in.)  Anyway, the point is this – familiarity had bred contempt.  We had been spending every waking moment together for a week, staying in a tiny hotel room, hanging out in all the same spots.  We were best friends, but we needed a time out from each other.

So what the heck do familiarity breeding contempt and NYC and right hooks and fights with amazing friends have to do with Lent exactly?  Well, here’s how I see it . . .

No matter what tradition you come from, the journey of being a disciple of Christ is filled with patterns and routines.  Whether your worshiping body is “high-church” or “low-church,” there is a liturgy at play.  Whether we recognize it or not, we develop our own systems and methods of being in relationship with Christ.  We go to church, we read the Bible, we pray, we attend classes or small groups, we serve.  We follow a path in an effort to become more like Christ.  To connect with the Body of Christ.  And to serve as the hands and feet of Christ.  This is good.  This is healthy.

But sometimes, just like Karissa and I in Central Park, we need a time out.

That’s what Lent is about to me.  It’s a time out.  A time away.  It is a time to re-examine our systems and methods and challenge ourselves to a greater follower-ship.  During Lent I reflect on who Christ is and the sacrifice He made.  I reflect on His journey and ministry on this planet I share with Him.  But I also reflect on myself.  Where am I falling short of being the living embodiment of Christ on earth?  Where do I need to refocus and align my desires with the will of God?  Where am I allowing my own selfishness to rule and preventing the grace and compassion of God to be at work in me?  And I can’t explore those questions in the comfort of my status quo.  I need a time out.

When I was in college I began practicing the discipline of fasting during Lent.  My first year I gave up desserts.  And coffee.  And sodas.  And candy.  And chocolate.  And fried foods.  I think I was trying to make up for seventeen years of not observing the fast.  And it was surprisingly easy.  But it never really pointed me towards God.  Later I gave up meat.  I ended up becoming a vegetarian for eight years—apparently that wasn’t a big sacrifice either.  I was searching for a time out that would make a difference in my life.  One that would help me recenter my life around Christ.

Years later I’ve discovered that for me, the best fasts are not ones in which I give up something, but ones in which I add a discipline.  I’ll get up earlier in the morning to add a second devotional time to my day.  (And I am NOT a morning person.)  Or this year, I added the discipline of spending time each day creating something—whether with words, paint, or craft supplies.  For me creating is linked directly to connecting with The Creator.  It’s a time out for me.

I’m not sure what a time out is for you.  But I’m confident it’s unique to the person that God created you to be.  But whatever form it takes, the discipline of fasting is designed to reveal the beauty of absence.  And just as absence can make the heart grow fonder (whether you’re a lover, parent, or squabbling friend in Central Park), absence from our familiar routines can also draw the heart closer to Christ.  And isn’t that the reason we fast in the first place?

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