“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver
The weight of Mary Oliver’s words fall heavy. And they are supposed to be, heavy I mean. Like something overripe, and waiting on a limb. The gentlest breeze seems to give it that force to find grounding where it hits, with a muffling sound and a fragrance that’s just too dangerous because of how rich it is. Today is Ash Wednesday and begins our Lenten season of waiting and considering the determined path Jesus took towards his crucifixion.
What I understand of Biblical history or the ancillaries surrounding it, the average life expectancy for a man in those days was similar to that of classical Rome, before the advent of modern medicine and was from 30-35 years. Jesus, from all we can understand, died after starting his ministry at the age of 30; he had three Passovers. He was 33 years old. To me that doesn’t seem to be either rich, full, ripe or dangerous. But it was all of those.
When I lately read a novel, I noted these words, “Life. Rich, vibrant, contrary life. How very much she loved it, and what a fickle steward she had been.” The heroine in this case, had a gun to her temple and had spent most of the novel worrying about appearances, considering independence, and forgoing the courage to claim the love of her life. It wasn’t any of these that moved me though, it was her choice of phrase that struck me: steward. At the end of the world, then, her regret was the lack of stewardship she had shown in guarding and guiding the one life she had been given to live.
And then I saw it, that Lent could be about a new kind of stewardship—one that carefully considered my one wild and precious life. And I thought, here I have 40 days to turn it around, to make it rich, vibrant, and whole. To do that, to make that happen, would require every minute of those 57600 in them. Because I finally feel like I’m understanding it, if I don’t do this, if I am not a better steward I will not be fulfilling what I can do or be here. And I will be the poorer for it, and so will you, and God will wonder why hadn’t I seen it before it was too late.
You have seen proposed changes like this right? The eating plans and the living plans, the promises and testimonials about how everything can turn around if ____ was just given a chance. And it is difficult because of all you have to do. Obligations for work, for school, for children, for spouse, for parents and for friends. We have to be good and patient stewards for all of this, the cost not to do it well and consciously is so very high. And we become good at it if not unenthusiastic.
We get up and work and we kiss children, we listen to dreams, we encourage, we motivate, we try to make better choices, we fight our own nature to tend to ourselves because that, we are told, is selfish. So, we become good stewards. We fulfill our obligations and if there is breath and ability left, there is still more to do: the environment—political, social and natural, the causes, the pain you see. And before too long, you feel you are failing and falling fast. Unable to fulfill your role well in any of them. And you wonder sadly, if this is what life was supposed to be?
This Lent I want to unpack all of that. Because a small line in a novel reminded me of something very important, that the first stewardship entrusted to us is for our very own lives. And unless that life is lived with purpose and joy, there is no ability to minister to anyone else. Your own despair wins out instead. “Choose life, so that you and your children will live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
The objective of Lent is to see what has been given so that you can feel whole. Something gets lost in the thoughts of penance and abstinence. We are already really, really good at punishing ourselves in my reckoning. We are absolutely ready to take blame, understanding that it is our lack of will that has put on pounds where we don’t want them, our ignorance that has allowed for a thousand situations to happen. Guilt is something we are well versed in. And the whole world obliges, by playing upon it. Letting us know that we are never, ever enough.
None of that matters to God, and maybe, just maybe this Lent is time for you to see it. That you are indeed enough. Just as you are. And once you know that, once you stand in stewardship of your life as it is, once you allow yourself to embrace the joy that has been paid in full for you, you can allow yourself stewardship that is exhilarating rather than exhausting. God wants you to care for yourself. To love you so you can love everyone else. To love you the way you are loved by God.
For me this is looking carefully at what is making me less than, what gives voice to the whispers of discontent that then become loud roars of rage and anger.
The premise is simple, I promise: once you find what is making your heart hurt and fear the fall, you can begin to live and that’s worth the 40 days to figure out.
- If it is the work that I do, that I may have fallen into by chance rather than choice, and it is unfulfilling, is there a way I can carve out time for something that gives me joy? Is there a community choir I can join, a local theatre group I can audition for, a crafting group I can start, a dog that I can walk, a retirement home I can bake or garden for, a newborn I can snuggle?
- If the children that you love are making it hard for you to love, maybe there is a playgroup you can leave them with just for an hour. A chance for you to breathe again and miss them.
- If the noise of the world is crashing in with the sorrows and the grandstanding and the sheer lack of understanding, it is time to find the quiet. Get into your car and drive to one of the parks in your area. Walk for 5 minutes. See where you are, breathe deeply, and walk back. Those moments spent in the quiet green of life and hum, will resonate with you and make you believe again in possibilities.
- If the diet that requires exclusion of the sugar you crave, and you stand with a fork in the leftover cake at 10:00, hating every bite maybe it’s time to ask why it is you need the sweetness to begin with? What is missing? What is hurting that requires it?
- If the exercise class is too difficult or too far away and you cannot go back or the gym membership is being unused, and either or both are making you feel once again a failure at health and resolve then go outside to your backyard or that of a community garden. Rake, shift, plant and consider. Your arms will ache, your legs will too but you will breathe sweet, cool air and feel accomplishment.
- If the friendship has been silent and you fear it cannot be mended, try to reach out and connect. No matter what else, without answering the siren’s song of that relationship, its ghost will continue to haunt you. You don’t need anything that does that.
- If the mess around you leaves you breathless with its enormity, the sheer volume of paper and packages and bits that you thought were at once necessary, that it saps your will to do writing or the dreaming or the crafting that you love, perhaps it’s time to set the timer, get a bag and get some bags to fill with care to recycle what has been forgotten already and is weighing you down with its mocking volume. (The piles are definite: shred, recycle, donate. No more than 3 seconds for each decision, the amount of time it took you to purchase or bring it in in the first place.)
- If the days wake you with memories of times when you lived selfishly, spoke sharply, hated and hurt intentionally, it’s time to put all of those down. Because those thoughts hold you back and make you weary. You will never be able to move forward if you are always looking behind you. Forgive yourself. You have to. Everyone makes mistakes. Being a good steward requires that you have accountability and enact it judiciously. You will not repeat your past, leave it there.
We were never meant to carry so much. Encumbrances like those will hurt you unnecessarily. And you’ve been hurt enough already.
You are whole. You are amazing. You are enough.
Ripe, rich, full and a little dangerous. Because any life well lived is all of those if we are lucky enough or foolish enough or a combination of the two. To love greatly, to listen carefully, to consider and to move when necessary. This Lent discover the way to become a steward of your own life. At the end of 40 days, when we come to celebrate the resurrection of the risen Christ, the fulfillment of a such a loved promise, we can extend that energy, love, richness and grace we have located within ourselves to everyone we can hope to know. And that is life changing. That’s exactly what we are meant to do.
So tell me, my friend, what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life? Grace and peace be with you this Easter season.