“How did it go?” my husband asked as we walked in the door on Shrove Tuesday.
“I’m feeling crispy,” I replied as I pulled blueberry pancakes off of my sweater and pushed my girls towards their bedrooms. The past two months felt heavy with sickness, work trips, and constant flux of weather change. Wrangling two young children at a church event while also trying to eat dinner had been exhausting in itself.
Last summer, I heard Brene Brown use this quote when discussing her own exhaustion: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” —Viktor Frankl
Space. It felt as if I never had enough. The space between stimulus and my response had become nonexistent. I was so trapped in my to-do list and making it through the day that I just responded quickly and entrenched myself in my initial reaction. Then came Lent.
As a priest and a lifelong Episcopalian, I have walked the Lenten journey before. As a child, I gave up chocolate and soda more as a requirement than a spiritual practice. As a young adult, I began to take on practices during this season, trying them on for size. I learned to love the Compline service after praying it every night and to discern God’s movement in my life using the Ignatian Examen. For the most part, I looked forward to Lent, a season to repent and recenter.
This year, I looked ahead to the forty days of Lent with a deep sigh. As a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t have energy to take on or give up anything. After reading Make Space for Jesus: Learning about Lent and Easter by Laura Alary with my daughters, I began to reflect on ways to expand my space–emotional and spiritually.
As a family, my daughters committed to giving away some of their unused toys and clothes. We spent an afternoon sorting through their rooms and gathering a large bag of stuffies, toys, and clothes for our local shelter. At the end of the day, my daughters excitedly played with the toys that we had uncovered in the process.
I eventually landed on contemplative prayer as my Lenten practice. It’s a practice that many people have suggested but that I have found extremely challenging. How could I possibly find the time? The silence felt intimidating and unattainable. I reluctantly committed to five minutes a day.
Admittedly, I have not always had five minutes of silence. Most days I set my contemplative prayer app for 10 minutes and do my best. I lay down on the carpet of my bedroom with my hands turned upward and I try to still my mind. Usually that stillness requires a centering word like “peace” or “blessing” to keep from rehearsing my grocery list. I have learned that on weekends when we are all home, I can find a time when I can excuse myself from the room and shut the door. After this stillness, I look forward to rejoining my family.
The Center for Action and Contemplation gives this invitation when describing contemplative practices, “Whatever ever practice(s) you choose, we invite you to commit to it. Through contemplation and life, God works on us slowly and in secret. Contemplative practice gradually rewires our brains to perceive and respond to reality with love.”
I have found that with contemplative practice, the space between stimulus and my response has grown. Giving myself more time to react has allowed me to see more possibilities and embrace Spirit-filled moments. As my silent sitting practice energized me, I leaned into play. When I took my girls to the park, I jumped on a swing. When my youngest had a teething meltdown at dinner time, I turned on music and we had a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen. I read a novel from start to finish.
All of these acts cultivated more space and a wider imagination for ways that God was already moving in my life and inviting me to participate. These practices have helped me as a parent as well. My eldest daughter and I argue daily about her hair. One day I paused and changed the conversation, asking instead how she would like to solve the problem and develop a solution together.
I wonder how your Lenten journey is going?
Maybe you approached Lent full of energy and gusto ready to repent and recenter. Maybe this year you started your journey as I did, with a heavy heart and a deep sigh. Wherever you find yourself today. I wonder how contemplation and holy space might open you up to ways that God is working. Because it’s never too late and it’s always the right time to breathe deeply, to make space, and to return to the God who loves you unconditionally.