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Silver Learnings- Part 1

Silver Learnings, Part 1

I always resist calling a good thing that comes in the midst of a bad situation, “A silver lining to a dark cloud.” That expression feels like a cheap dodge, a way of saying the bad thing is really not so bad.

Still, I almost always learn something important from hardship, something I wouldn’t have understood otherwise, and in that way I often find myself grateful, or at least sort-of-kind-of grateful, for the gifts that come by tribulation.

If there’s wisdom to be found through catastrophe, I’ll try to dig around in the rubble - who knows what’s in there.

So I won’t ever say this pandemic is a good thing, even if undeniable good is found in pockets and moments. But I’m going to try and articulate some insights and reminders I am growing with during this strange time.

Call them silver learnings. Is that cheesy? I can live with it…

Pt. 1: Lenten Promises

My family has a devotional practice of not turning on lights during Lent. We use what the sun gives us and make do with candles after dusk. We tried this for the first time 9 years ago, and it’s become a tradition. The 40 days leading to Easter is a time of receding darkness for the six of us - each day we get a couple added minutes of sunshine, plus the fake bonus of Daylight Savings Time, which steals from the morning to push back the night.

Darkness comes with real and very frustrating challenges. You better make sure the Legos are picked up while you can see them, for one. And don’t ever cook bacon without a light on. Even with the headaches, we’ve kept the practice because it’s undeniably good for us. A dark home is a quieter home, a more peaceful home. But more important, darkness demands humility. You see your limits, in fact your limits are all you can see. You must tread slowly and with care. You must remember where things are. You must accept it when the day is done.

This year during Lent (which began Feb 26), I added to our shared commitment a personal choice to give up both alcohol and caffeine. I chose this mostly for health reasons, to be candid. I’ve never had trouble falling asleep, but for a while my rest has broken up by fits of midnight wakefulness, and I feel very tired, a lot of days, as a result.

The benefits of dropping all caffeine and alcohol have been incredible. I can’t remember when I slept this well, and even if I get fewer hours, I feel more rested. No kidding, I’ve been getting up earlier than on school days, without an alarm clock.

It’s also been a total drag, let me be clear. Especially the caffeine part. Man. I drink a lot of coffee, okay? And let me tell you, you miss it when it’s gone. And beer? Yep, there’s nothing like abstinence to teach you how you really feel about a thing. And I like beer.

But that leads to the deeper value of the Lenten promise. Like choosing darkness, choosing to go without these chemical inputs is an exercise in humility. Just like I lie to myself that I don’t need stillness and quiet when I flood my home with light at 10pm, I use caffeine to defy the truth of my exhaustion, and I use alcohol to relax my nerves and ease painful emotions. When I make an active choice to forgo these escape mechanisms, I’m forced to confront my limitations and the truth about my life.

And frankly, reminding the guy in the mirror that he can’t have whatever he wants at the moment, is just a good idea.

Of course, when Lent began, I didn’t know COVID 19 was going to shut the world down, although the virus was in the US news a lot by February. But as the fiasco of cascading closures and cancellations unfolded, and as all of the restrictive measures have been instituted, suspending normalcy throughout our society, I’ve been thankful for the practice of deprivation I’d already undertaken.

Ok, let me be a little more honest than that. I’ve had a lot of times since schools have been closed when I really wanted a beer, and even more times when I really wanted a cup of joe. But still. The Lenten discipline for me is all about illuminating and accepting my limitations. And practicing that spiritual truth has been supremely relevant in this season when we are prevented from doing much of what we’d ordinarily do in our day-to-day.

Maybe the simpler way to put it is, when you practice saying no to yourself, it’s less of a shock when the world says no.

When all this passes, and society reopens, and we get to go back to church and restaurants and baseball games, I pray we’ll savor these experiences with a newly-formed gratitude, and a sharp awareness of how life itself, and every good thing in it, is a gift, truly.

But long before then, starting even now, we are invited to embrace the truth about ourselves - when we can go and when we must stop; what we understand and what we do not; what we control and what we cannot control. Be in the light, even as it’s fading, with trust that a new day is coming.

Because it’s only within hard limits that we divine what truly matters, and how we really ought to live.

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