So, it’s Lent.
Winter is slowly giving way to Spring and we’re met with snow on Monday and rain on Tuesday and sun on Wednesday. This is an insane time of year and somehow it feels just about right for this season of discipline and fasting.
When it came to what I was “doing for Lent,” I decided to do something simple–daily prayer. In the Book of Common Prayer–this handy little prayer guide that’s roughly 230 years old–there are prayers for all kinds of occasions. Seasons of doubt, seasons of healing, seasons on the liturgical calendar like Easter and Advent. And there are simple during-the-day prayers that take about two minutes, four times a day. I find something so comforting about the fact that when I open up to Morning, Noon and Evening prayers they’ve been prayed by millions of people for hundreds of years.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the worst at it. I started off totally on-track, stopping three or four times a day to refocus and be grateful. But over time, it has dropped to sometimes once or twice a day. I carry that little book around and across the country and there are moments when it stares at me while I avoid it, and other times when I hold onto it like a life raft on uncertain waters.
Also, I’m in physical therapy. The kind where you show up and they work with your muscles and try to help you rebuild something that’s broken. The kind where you’re getting to know the staff because you’re there three times a week for a while because you need to do some hard work. The kind where you have roughly 10 exercises that you do 2-3 times a day.
I’m not entirely sure what went wrong in my back and shoulders. Maybe it was years of golf or long commutes in a ’98 Buick that had a seat that leaned a little left. Either way, I feel like I’m under construction and I hate it. I hate not being well. I hate every weak place it takes me back to. I hate that it seems to line right up with some upheaval that’s been happening in my heart.
The kind physical therapist watched me move and do squats and assessed me on my first visit and finally she said, “You have inner instability.” What she meant was that the inner muscles around my spine are weak and need to be made stable again. But when I heard those words, I nearly burst into tears because how did she know?
It took me back in my mind to the eye doctor the day before. I’d been getting headaches so I went in and got an eye exam and she kept switching between lenses, telling me to focus. And I couldn’t. At 28 years old, my vision is starting to go. Little by little, headache by headache. Over and over again, she clicked and the letters were B’s or maybe F’s or maybe A’s.
Finally, after a few minutes, I sighed that sigh you let out when you’re exhausted and simply said, “I can’t.”
Something about not being able to see and being told you have to stabilize and having to stop and pray all the time wears a person out. Something about humanity and brokeness and not being able to do it strikes a nerve in my get-it-done heart. Something about the fact that my left side is weaker and what’s simple on the right leg or arm just isn’t the same on the other.
I honestly thought this was a season of stability and certainty and for once I wasn’t worried about adulting, but isn’t that the way things go?
The bottom of the grocery bag falls apart and you lose the jar of pasta sauce. You spill salad in the front seat of the car. The dog gets out again and you’re walking in the rain, carrying her to the backyard like a little lamb, reluctantly accepting the fact that now you smell like wet labradoodle.
This is what I’m learning: sometimes, rebuilding is slow and hard. And it honestly feels pointless in the middle. You start to wonder: what’s one missed exercise or prayer or conversation or headache or text message in the grand scheme of things?
But let me tell you how muscle is built. When we move in certain ways (like lifting weight or stretching) we get these tiny rips called ‘micro tears’ in our muscle. Then, they heal and grow stronger, rebuilding better muscle as a result. This is one of the reasons you’re sore after a work out. Because your muscles are literally being pulled and stretched and having to re-grow on a minuscule level.
Sometimes, alone in my house, I yell as I sit on my 90-year-old hardwood floors about how I want to be fine. I do these stretches or say the same exact prayers and can’t help but feel like it’s pointless and difficult and I get overwhelmed by how tired my muscles are and how weary my heart can get as it tries to carry more than it seems to be able to handle.
And that’s when it starts to click: it’s always more than we can handle. It’s never firmly in our grasp. It’s always by the grace of God. It’s always slow and steady. It’s always a small tearing that makes us whole.
So I’ll set my alarm and show up at physical therapy and sometimes I’ll be able to move quickly through my exercises and other times I’ll wince a bit and try not to think about the fact that my muscles just aren’t what I want them to be. But this is what I know: the other day, I started morning prayer without looking at the words in the book. And I felt my back move correctly when I had to pick something up with my left hand.
You may be in a place where you don’t see the benefit of the discipline or small acts that make up your day. Maybe the toddler isn’t into listening or you don’t remember the last time you had date night or you are sitting in a counseling office wrestling with the same demons you hoped to be rid of by now. Maybe you’re in a season of feeling stuck and uncertain and doubting that you’re where you’re supposed to be. I get that, friend. You have no idea how much I get that.
But hear this: It’s slow. It’s steady. It’s painful like a thousand micro-tears in your muscle. And it may sound like a load of garbage, but I have to say: Keep going. I don’t care if it’s one breath at a time–that’s all you need sometimes. God will meet you there.
Whisper it to yourself when you wake up.
Take today one step or stretch or prayer at a time.
Look in the mirror and make eye contact with yourself and say it out loud if you have to.
Write it in text messages to your friends.
Carry it in your pocket on a scrap of paper.
Say it like an anthem; shout it alone in your car if you have to.