Life in the Aftermath: A Post Lenten Reflection

Easter has come and gone. The 40 days of Lent are behind us. Our Lenten devotions and fasts have come to an end. So now what do we do?

In my experience, the Lenten season, like the Christmas season, is a time of consistent spiritual devotion. The 40 days that mark the season of Lent on the Christian calendar are when I tend to be on my “A-game.” The significance of the mighty cross, and the celebration of Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday, all contribute to the anticipation of the season. For ministers and laity alike, Lent is a time of great devotion and sacrifice, all with the intention of drawing nearer to Christ. It is a beautiful time.

The Monday after Easter, the mundane routine of “normal” life returns. Ministers take a sigh of relief from the countless hours spent preparing for the various services, and church goers rejoice (secretly of course) at the fact that practices for the cantatas are finished and church is once again at most a two-day weekly commitment. Unfortunately, the significance of the Lenten season is lost in the ebb and flow of the ordinary. The impact of the season may last for a few days or even a week after Resurrection Sunday, but inevitably it is forgotten as life whisks away its tenets once again. Like a student who has gone to camp and returned, the “camp high” (or in this case, “Lenten High”) rapidly disseminates. For me, this has been the case every year in which I have embraced the significance of the Lenten season. This year, however, I find myself yearning for a change. Why must I allow the yearly routine to habituate itself any longer? 

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Failure, Doubt, and Perfectionism: A Lenten Reflection

History certainly does repeat itself. 

Every semester, the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation kicks in around week eight. During this time, the “normal” daily routine is as follows: wake up, go to class, do homework, stay up late, sleep for a few hours, and repeat the next day. In the typically ironic fashion, the hopeful student begins the semester promising themselves that papers will be started earlier, bed times will be strictly enforced, and socialization and personal fitness time will be a part of the daily routine. As all hopeful students (and I included) know, this lofty promise almost always seems to be abandoned. We start out strong but inevitably stress surmounts us. No matter how many years we have been in higher education, we are almost never prepared for what is to ensue in the final two months of classes. When coupled with the stress of schoolwork, sleep deprivation becomes a thorn in our flesh. Those papers we attempted to start early somehow got pushed back, our bed times become later and later, we interact less and less with those around us (for those of us who are married, this also unfortunately means our spouses), and our fitness aspirations become a figment of our imagination. At the end of each day, we find ourselves slipping further and further into that vicious cycle with which we are all well acquainted.

On the one hand, I know there are those blessed ones who are able to conquer this cycle. Stress is not an object of fear, and somehow everything always seems to end up okay for these people. When the busy time of the semester is over, these people walk away feeling slightly worn out. On the other hand, there are those who get to the end of the semester (or perhaps the one month point) and feel like they have been ran over by freight train. It is in this camp where I find myself at the end of each semester.

Come December and May, I am always bruised and broken. In these months, I find myself filled with frustration and doubt. As one who aspires to continue to move on in the world of academia and pursue a PhD in Religion, the doubt in me screams, “You cannot do this. You are not cut out for this type of work.” In response, I often retort to my doubt, “Maybe you are right. Maybe I am not meant for this. Maybe I need to reevaluate my ‘call’.” This semester my doubt almost got the best of me. I highly considered changing my directions in my academic path.

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Crowded Cafeterias

Crowded cafeterias. Loud whispers. Familiar and unfamiliar faces. Awkward glares. All of these define the high school/middle school lunchroom experience.

As a youth minister, I believe the main part of my “job description” is building relationships with the students. It is imperative that we are investing in their lives in order to be effective in our jobs. Sure, this can be done on Wednesday and Sunday nights (or whenever youth ministries may meet); however, I am an ardent supporter that true ministry happens when you go into the trenches. Youth ministry is not some squeaky-clean ministry, where you can feel comfortable 100% of the time. It is not a place where you can just relax in your church office or local coffee shop every day and “prepare for the main event.” Youth ministry requires getting dirty. It requires going into even the places you thought you left a long time ago.

Letting Them Know You Care

As I have mentioned in my most recent blog, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is especially true in youth ministry. Adolescents are much smarter than we often think they are. find-seat-in-crowded-cafeteria-its-okay-i-can-eat-standingThey pick up on social cues. They can sniff apathy and lack of care from a mile away. Teenagers are in a time of life where they need to know that people care for them. I have learned from experience that it is crucial to show them you are in it for them (let’s be honest; who actually does youth ministry because they want to be well-known, rich, and famous?). We, youth ministers and volunteer leaders alike, must be there for our students. So what does this mean for those of us involved in youth ministry? It means that we need to be making time to go to sporting events, orchestra concerts, visiting them at work, having coffee (decaffeinated beverages for them) with them, and going to the school cafeterias! 

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Why Did I Choose Seminary?

Today, the Gardner-Webb University (GWU) School of Divinity hosted its Spring Preview Day. I was asked by our wonderful Director of Admissions if I would be willing to join the prospective students for lunch; delighted to have another opportunity to share my passion for this program, I accepted the opportunity. While eating lunch with some prospective students, I blatantly asked them why they were considering seminary. To no surprise, they replied, “God has called me into ministry.” Each student had the same undeniable call to go to seminary and pursue the path in which God has called them. Although not all of them will end up at GWU, I know that they are on a path that will lead them on a new and exciting journey. CPE Emphasis Chapel (March 18, 2014)

After lunch, the question I asked the prospective students continued to resonate within me, and I found myself wrestling with it all afternoon: Why did I choose seminary? 

The Journey to Seminary:

The answer to this is rather lengthy, so I will do my best to practice “lucid brevity,” as I am frequently encouraged to do by Dr. McConnell. My journey to seminary started my sophomore year in undergrad when I became a Young Life (YL) leader at a local high school in Shelby, NC. This was my first experience in the world of ministry. I quickly learned that ministry was messy, tough, and draining, yet beautiful and rewarding. YL became the avenue through which God would begin to reroute my life. However, as a young Christian, I was completely naïve to the complexities of this call.

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Listening to the Divine Imperatives (Jonah 1:1-3)

Last night, my youth guys small group started a study on the Book of Jonah. Before we started the study, I asked the youth how deep they wanted to go into the scripture. Their response came as no surprise to me; they said we want to dig into this stuff! Excited, I replied, “Challenge excepted!” So, this is where we are now. For the next couple of weeks, I will be blogging about my personal study on Jonah. I do not claim to have all the right answers, but I hope that this study will challenge and cause you to think. I will approach the text both historically and theologically (since I believe this is the best way to interpret the Bible).

Jonah 1:1-3 

The Book of Jonah, composed of four chapters and a mere 48 verses, holds one of the most well-known VBS stories. The prophet, Jonah, gets swallowed up by a giant fish (or as some like to claim, a giant whale). Unlike the other 11 Minor Prophets, who prophesy matters regarding Israel and Judah, Jonah is simply a narrative exposition of Jonah, the son of Amittai. Scholarship is divided on this matter. Historically, Jonah son of Amittai did exist. This individual came from Gath-hepher and was actually considered a “court prophet” for King Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). However, scholarship calls into question whether or not the Jonah that is mentioned in the Book of Jonah actually existed. Personally, I have not done enough research to come to a definitive conclusion, but I definitely am moving more towards one direction. Phyllis Trible, in her introduction essay in The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, addresses the various proposed genres for the Book of Jonah. The two most viable options, in my opinion, claim the Book of Jonah is a parable (similar to those in Mic 2:1-5, Hab 2:6-19, etc.) or satire (though there is a serious meaning, the author of this book also uses irony, humor, and wit). So, if we approach this book from that viewpoint, I think we have to believe that Jonah is a fictitious character resembling the Jonah referenced in 2 Kings. However, this does not take away from the theological significance of the story, especially when we think of the importance of parables in the Bible.

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New Beginnings and a Lenten Fast.

The age-old cliché states, “Third time’s the charm.” For my blogging endeavors, I hope the cliché holds true.

Lately, I have been thinking about how scattered my mind is. I am a naturally inquisitive person. I am a critical thinker. I love to know the way things work and why people think a certain way. I love to dialogue with others about faith, life, and current issues. When I read or hear things, I subconsciously have to question something. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I do find myself losing track of time or the ideas I once was questioning. So, in an attempt to organize my thoughts, be more productive with my mind, and to enter into ongoing conversations about any and everything, I have decided to venture back into the blogging world. This time, however, there is a new motivation.

This past Wednesday marked the beginning of the Lenten season. Unfortunately, the “busyness” of my life enabled Lent to sneak up on me. In the Baptist world we generally don’t make much of a deal of Lent. Fasting for 40 days is rarely discussed. However, I think fasting is an integral part of our Christian faith. Fasting occurs many times throughout the Bible and for numerous reasons. For every reason there is one primary purpose; that is to draw us into a place of weakness so that we may turn our focus to God. I would like to propose, however, that fasting does not necessarily have to mean removing something from one’s life. Last year, one of my professors, Dr. Allen, spoke on fasting in our Christian Ethics class. She suggested that fasting is not always the giving up of something; fasting is something that draws one closer to God. So, as the days since Ash Wednesday have passed, I have been thinking…questioning…praying. I have since determined that this year, I will not give anything up. Instead, I will only be adding something to my life. My Lenten fast will be to write, journal, and blog more. Why? Simply because I feel it is necessary to channel my thoughts more productively so that I may glorify the Lord. As a part of my Lenten fast, I ask you as my readers to keep me accountable. My prayer is that this will not just be a “40-day thing,” but that it will be a new spiritual discipline added to my life. If you live near me or have my number, text me if I fall behind in writing. Fortunately for you all, you won’t have to read all of my thoughts (that’s why I will be keeping a journal), but I do hope that for the thoughts you do read, you join in on the conversation with me.

So, here’s to hoping that the third time truly is the charm! Thanks for being a part of this journey.

“All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” – Eccl 3:20

χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη (Grace and peace to you) – Michael