Pay attention! It’s Lent.

Last week our pastors focused on the definitive story of Lent: Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. We are in the thick of our own wilderness right now. We are emulating the Lord’s forty days of development before he launched into redeveloping creation. Mark succinctly recounts what happened:

The Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,  and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Has been in desert - Vasily Polenov
Vasily Polenov, 1909

The pastors are trying to get us to make the journey with Jesus. I am taking their lead.

Along the way, I have been struck, again, that Jesus deliberately attends to the process of his suffering and development in the wilderness and in the process he is attended to. A big theme is attention. The Spirit drives the Lord into the wilderness and he submits to the necessity. He turns his attention to that empty space. Sure enough, the devil presents the deepest temptations that might deter him. He learns to defeat them, is ministered to by angels and returns to claim his place in the world and participate in the miracle of redemption. We need to pay attention to the Lord paying attention. We need Lent every year so we can begin to scratch the surface of the deep movement he endures that is also moving in us — and attend to it.

One of the big temptations Lent presents is whether we are going to attend to it at all. It is better if we decide to move with the Spirit, if we give our attention and so learn to be generally attentive to God. But just being around Lent has a tendency to develop us anyway.

For instance, last week a friend called me with some significant feelings about what was going on in the church this season. I finally said, “You are experiencing Lent. The feelings and thoughts you have are exactly what people attending to Lent experience. Great!” He wasn’t too sure I should be celebrating his difficult feelings. But he eventually realized I had discerned the situation fairly well. He felt better.

Likewise, the other night I had a dream that woke me up as I screamed at some dark presence that frightened me. I realized that whether I attended to my inner life during the day or not, when I was less-defended in the night my dreams might try to wake me up to attend to the movement inside me. Whether I wanted to be aware or not, something was happening.

The biggest temptation of Lent might be to not pay attention to the temptation, or to avoid the circumstances in which we might have to deal with something — to pretend we are not moved by the Spirit, not looking toward a new expression of our gifts and mission, or not attended to by God, sought and loved.

The thought of deliberately turning our attention to something deep or hard just seems exhausting to many of us, and for good reason. We are naturally limited, and if we don’t rely on God and others to have a life, we will quickly be overwhelmed.

This reality surfaced again last week when I contacted the Leadership Team (30 great people, thank God!) to find out what communications they gave their attention. I sent a survey out after the iced-out Imaginarium and over half of them filled it out that night! That is some good attending! Others took a couple of days to get to the email and then the survey. But all in all I felt attended to and found them to be attentive.

I learned a lot from the process: risking a test to see who would respond, daring to find out things I might not want to know, imposing on people who have to make an effort to connect, etc. The process was unwittingly Lentish and good. A few things:

  1. We have a good, growing Leadership Team. Thank God! We need them to keep growing. They have a lot to which to attend and they need to be good at it.
  2. Attending is hard. If you write an email to your team member, you need them to answer it or there is no team. Some of the people I polled can’t read email at work. They might read it first on their phone and realize they’ll need to sit down at a computer later. But they come home to the needs of their house and maybe a baby or two. Plus they are tired. It is hard to keep up.
  3. If someone does not attend, the system brings up the rest of its inadequacies to make sure they are noticed. It is a bit like my dream. What is unattended is going to find a way to make itself known. You might think other people are making up for your lack of attention, and that might be true at times. But more likely, you are more important than you admit and your inattention is creating trouble. That trouble will make itself known.

You undoubtedly relate to all this. Attending to people we love is hard for all of us. That is astonishing, but it is true. We are so limited, we might feel put upon by the need to love God or the ones who love us! — much more those we don’t know yet, or our enemies! A simple email can make us feel like we are in the wilderness with wild beasts!

I am not sure Jesus was completely conscious of what he would face in the wilderness when the Spirit drove him into the first Lent. Like we need, he needed to have courage to attend to whatever was coming. His attention to his Father and his true self is a great example for us. Not attending like Him will deform us. Our avoidance won’t save us from having to face what we fear, as we hope it might; our fear will find a way to dominate it unless attending to Love casts it out.

One way or the other, we’ll meet up with our temptations. We’ll be inexplicably mad at those dearest to us. Or our dreams will be disturbed. Or we will be the problem in the functioning of our team. Or something. I think we would like to never be led into temptation, like the Lords’ prayer has us pray. But chances are we can’t avoid it and we will need to learn how to be delivered from evil, as in the very next breath of the same prayer. We are in the middle of being delivered right now. Lent is helping us to see what it is in us, as individuals and the church, that needs God’s help and teaching us how to participate in our deliverance – for some of us, whether we want to see or learn or not! Some of us are leaning into it with Jesus. Some of us are learning to sort out what we attend to like the demands are wild beasts meeting us in the desert! Either way, we are driven by the Spirit to get ready for what is next. I think giving what attention we can muster is our crucial part.

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