The Discipline of Lent || Jill Zimmerman McFadden

Posted on March 11th, by Jill Zimmerman McFadden in Heart. 7 comments

The Discipline of Lent || Jill Zimmerman McFadden

I am an oldest child.  I absolutely hate to be in trouble – I always have.  Like the time I got called out for petting the class fish when I thought no one was looking.  (It wasn’t even our class fish.  Our class didn’t have a class fish.  I just wanted to bond with the fish, but didn’t know the teacher could see me from the room across the hall.  And I hated her from that day on.)  Anyway, I just don’t want people to be disappointed in me.  In fact, I’ll usually do whatever I think I need to do so that everyone – everyone – will be pleased with me.

Even God.

So when it comes to something like the spiritual disciplines – a topic that comes up particularly in this Lenten season when many of us choose to give up or take on something for the 40 days leading up to Easter – it is easy for me to approach them as “things to do so that someone [God] will be pleased with me.”  I think surely, if I do X or don’t do X, God will respond in a certain way or be more happy with my “performance” as a Christian.

Now, before you correct me in the comments box (because I’d hate for you to be upset with me), I do know it’s not true.  I know God loves me because of what Christ has done, not because of what I have done or will do.  I know he loves me because he created me and called me to himself.  I know he doesn’t look down from on high and say, “Jill, that was a really good quiet time.  Kudos to you for squeezing that in with the new baby and everything.  Extra special blessings and smiles from Above coming your way today .”  I know it in my head.. but.. I still find myself viewing the disciplines of the spiritual life (be it studying the word, time in prayer, fasting, etc.) like performance-oriented God-given “to do” lists.  And this twisted thinking pops up Lent after Lent, as everyone around me gives up chocolate or Facebook or takes on marathon running or five hours of silence a day.

So for oldest children everywhere, I’d like to share something Henri Nouwen said that has been really helpful for me, even though I often forget it:

Through the disciplines we create space for God to act.

It’s less like getting my living room perfectly tidy and in order so that Someone can be impressed, and more like getting all the furniture out of the way so that Someone can come in and dance.  It’s not focusing on my efforts at “doing” the disciplines but focusing on the disciplines as a way to set the stage for God to do something in me.  My action is involved, to be sure, but it is in anticipation of God’s action in my life.  It’s not filling up but carving out, creating space – for God to act.

So if you’re giving up Facebook, may it be unto the end of creating a little extra mental and emotional space in your day to listen to God.  May the absence of a steady stream of posts from the seemingly perfect lives of your 957 best friends create space for God to work a new contentment and peace within you.  If you’re giving up dessert, I’m sorry.  But really, may the space created in your stomach and in your desires leave you hungry for more of him – and may he fill you.  May this Lenten season be a time where you create space in your heart, mind, and even body for God to act – meeting you and making you more and more like his Son.  He already loves you because of that Son’s life, death, and resurrection that we’re preparing to celebrate.  You can’t add to it.  But you can stop trying to add, and create a little floor space for God to come in and make a beautiful dance out of your life.


Jill Zimmerman McFadden Jill McFadden is married to Ian, directs worship and arts at Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, and plays in the folk acoustic trio Ordinary Time. She studied Christianity and the Arts at Regent College.
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7 Responses to “The Discipline of Lent || Jill Zimmerman McFadden”

  1. Melanie says:

    From another firstborn, thank you!! There is something redeeming in knowing you are not alone in your struggles to “get it right”…even when you know in your head there is nothing, not one thing, left for you TO do.

  2. […] Click here to view original post. The Unitive […]

    • well stated..coming from the youngest of two (which truly means nothing ;-)), I, too, appreciate your words..and look forward to hearing you sing again soon (one of the reasons my husband and I started coming to Central some two years ago..you have an ins says:

      well stated..coming from the youngest of two (which truly means nothing ;-)), I, too, appreciate your words..and look forward to hearing you sing again soon (one of the reasons my husband and I started coming to Central some two years ago..you (and Ian) have an inspirational voice..and word. thank you. ) :-) Michelle

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you jill. I’ve been frantically cleaning as I’ve been known to do this lent season…preparing. The concept of pushing back furniture and making room to receive rather to “impress” feels liberating. Martha becoming Mary.

  5. Gail Seward says:

    I am the eldest of four. With the early death of my father I took on the role of caretaker, and not willingly. As a Cinderella I have taken on the role of doing God’s laundry and cleaning His house, and generally seeing myself with my ear pierced to the door. Could He really be inviting me to dance. I need dance lessons first but I hope to make it to the ball.

  6. Eloise says:

    Entlhgiening the world, one helpful article at a time.

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