I think it was Anne Kennedy who said, in a podcast or something, that “struggle is the Christian world for failure.” I don’t know if she meant that in a negative sense, like it’s the Christianese word, but I’ve found this thought comforting in these past few weeks. I think, “I’m failing at this,” then remember that thought and think, “no, I’m just struggling.” Conversely, it’s also nice to use the word “struggling” and imagine that my hearers don’t just hear some platitude about a bad day, but an honest confession of something balder: nope, I’m really failing at this.
I’ve been struggling with my Lenten disciplines.
One of the limits I put on myself was to blog only once a week during Lent. My hope was that this would encourage me to reach out and make more one-to-one contact. It has occasionally, but it’s still deeply instinctive for me to reach for my phone and scroll through Instagram rather than open my contacts. I tried limiting my phone too, but that’s been another total “struggle.”
Last night, I cheated. Just a bit. I’ve been having thoughts about making the occasional video blog, since I have been enjoying spinning videos a great deal lately. Last night I gave it a go. I told myself it was just my Sunday blog done a night early.
It was surprisingly fun. Well, really it felt incredibly self-indulgent to ramble at a camera about yarn for half an hour. Then it felt even more self-indulgent to watch myself, despite all my ums, my bad hair and the atrocious lighting. It was a very literal form of self-love, and imagining that I could throw these images of myself on YouTube and others would also look and know and love me? Well, it’s the intrinsic delight of “sharing”, but amplified exponentially.
(If you are reading this and you do a video blog, please don’t imagine I’m accusing you of this mindset. I do presume myself to be the worst of sinners. What’s problematic for me may not be for you. Or maybe it is. That’s between you and Jesus.)
Imagine my frustration, then, when I’ve accidentally spent most of an evening in this pursuit, and I’m about to export my video (including a musical intro and everything), when it doesn’t work. The software I’ve downloaded is – surprise! – a trial version of some kind, and if you try to export without paying a chunk of money, your video has a giant watermark in the middle of your face. A bit of a blockade between me and all my potential adoring watchers.
I was frustrated with myself. I could have spent that time spinning! I didn’t want to write all that up into a blog post now; it wouldn’t be the same. I mean, video-making was fun, I learned a lot, and it was good practice for any potential future video projects. I’m sure I’ve wasted evenings doing dumber things. But in the moment, I was pretty bummed. My time is pretty precious these days.
As I wrote about last week, these unexpected deprivations and “struggles” have been more “Lenten” than even the intentional sacrifices. This is making me stop and ask, why? Why do I want this? Where is this even coming from?
We sang “abide with me” in church this morning, which was a little awkward since it’s an evening hymn, but it touched me right where it counts. “When comforts fail,” said the second verse, “abide with me.” Then we sang “fairest lord Jesus,” in which we enumerate some of my favorite landscapes of home, the meadows and woodlands and the twinkling starry host, then sing “Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer.” And the conviction of having missed this basic truth was overwhelming. The most obvious solution to our bentness is somehow the easiest to forget, because our bentness is so persistent.
The lie is that the temptation will bring life and peace, excitement and freedom; that self indulgence is the same as self care, that following my flesh is the escape from dull duty. The truth is that surrender to flesh is a dead wasteland, where bones go to dry out, where the Spirit is just an offensive, noisy wind. And the duty, if surrendered to, surprises me as a jungle teeming with life and growth and potential. This is what Jesus has been very patiently and repeatedly revealing to me these past weeks. I share it with you in the expectation that you will be quicker to pick up the lesson than I am.
I definitely got more out of failing to vlog than I would have out of succeeding.
How about you? What are you “struggling” with?