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Thursday
Feb052015

Sifting

As we draw closer to Lent we began to ask again what this season is about.  We do not, afterall live in a culture that encourages us to consistently deny ourselves indulgence.  Our entire economic system is built on consuming, and hence it plays an important part of our society.  Leaving that for a moment, I’d like to focus this month on another aspect of Lent, self-examination.  Self-examination is not something that needs to be esoteric or even particularly soul searching.  It is simply a kind of evaluation, a taking stock.

As a pastor I try to evaluate things that we do, and I often try to ask, how did that go? What worked?  What should change?   This can be far more helpful than simply asking, what went wrong or what went right.  It can sometimes even be more helpful than trying to figure out why something did or didn’t work.  We often can’t explain why something did or didn’t work.  We might decide to try again, or we might decide to do something different.  By that it worked is usually more important than why.  Why comes later.

To evaluate something, to thoughtfully look back on something we have done or something that happened, is to learn, to develop as people.  If we don’t evaluate we are often condemned to repeat bad patterns and old habits and can get stuck in unfruitful routines.  Reflection and evaluation invites us to bend back and peel open our lives, to get up in the balcony and see a broader perspective, to see our experience through a larger lens.  

There’s about three things that go into a good evaluation.  First, how do you feel?  This might seem a bit touchy feely, but feelings are important, and paying attention to our feelings can lead us to greater wisdom about ourselves and about our world.  This is not simply about personal taste, or whether we “like” something.  If we are uncomfortable with something or particularly happy about something that might lead us to ask if there is an aspect we hadn’t noticed before.  Perhaps it has to do with us; perhaps it has to do with the situation; but asking ourselves how we feel is a vital step to doing a good evaluation of anything.

Second is what is sometimes called the Plus/Delta.  What is going well and what needs to change.  What is a positive and what could we do or be better, and how.  It is important to avoid blame here.  We tend to try to simplify life, find a simple solution, fix it, and move on, often slaughtering a scapegoat as a part of the process, whether it is ourselves or someone else.  Life isn’t that simple.  

Third, we need to name and address the elephants in the room.  How often in our lives, in our families, in our churches, have we let the elephants sit in the room taking up space and making our lives uncomfortable.  We usually don’t gain anything by ignoring them.   In my own life I had an elephant in the room for a while: I hadn’t been to a doctor in years.  During the previous visit, which had come up because of a rather scary symptom, I had come through fine, but that had been a number of years ago.  I finally broke down and went for a full check-up.  Everything was fine again, but one number had climbed to dangerous levels.  I didn’t know it; and if I had gone even more years without paying any attention to it, it could have caused some problems.  But I addressed that elephant; I had my tests, got my medication, and things are now under control.  

Take this Lent to address your elephants-in-the-room.  Evaluate your life, your relationships, your work.  What is going well?  What do you need to change?  How are you feeling?  These kinds of questions can lead to the deep personal and spiritual growth that Lent is all about.

 

 

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