Is 40 days long enough for change?

Friday morning I had to drag myself out of bed. It wasn’t one of those mornings that I was just tired and moving slow. It was a feeling of dread, sadness, and lack of purpose. I felt I had no reason to want to get up. Finally the persistence of the cats, who were perturbed that I wasn’t following my normal routine, roused me and forced me to move. I need to be honest and admit that I have been fighting this feeling for quite some time. Some days aren’t so bad and I blame it on the weather or nothing special on my schedule to look forward to. Other days I wonder if I should seek some assistance. I have reflected on a thousand reasons for the feeling. A description for the malaise that I find fitting is spiritual desolation.

Later in the morning I saw a post by a former colleague and friend who was recently remarried. She moved away from the Chicago suburbs to be close to family and after moving connected with a past love. She looked so beautiful and radiated such joy, I was thrilled for her! After that I returned to the task of looking for a daily post for Instagram. I found one that seemed to reflect what I felt seeing her joyful pictures and a message I needed for myself – “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” The quote is by Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist.

If I am honest about my life, it has been one of constant and endless searching. At one point, many years ago, a spiritual director told me that I might just be someone who will always be restless, searching for more, and trying to find meaning. He suggested I might just have to face the discontent and embrace it. As you can imagine, that didn’t feel very hopeful. So I continued searching in spiritual books and poetry, retreats, and study programs to either provide an answer or new insight regarding my purpose in doing God’s will in my life.

I don’t know if it was the pictures or the quote, but suddenly I decided I wanted to cease the search to find an answer. I just wanted “to be” as I heard Brother Paul Quenon of Gethsemani Abbey comment in a short PBS documentary and interview conducted by my friend, author, Judith Valente (link below). Brother Paul said that we don’t need a purpose, that the “purpose of life is life”, “you are to be, just to be.”

I decided I wanted to live more fully in the present moment – to plan for things like my trip to Italy in October versus worrying about my purpose in life. I want to clean and organize the garage this Spring and Summer (along with countless other places in the house) versus organizing an endless list of things to do that will help me feel like I am accomplishing something meaningful. Just being should hold enough meaning. I want to get my hands in the dirt and work with my plants in the garden and then appreciate the slow growth and unfolding.

Lent starts this week. I savor the deep reflection and extra times of prayer during this liturgical season in the Church. I don’t look forward to but choose a food fast of some sort. It is a practice each year that helps me explore and conquer some of the lack of self discipline I feel in my life. It’s a time to turn away from the instant gratification of some desired item and clear a space to look within.

So on Friday I also signed up for a retreat with one of my favorite teachers and her team, Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts. The theme of the retreat is to explore a different type of Lenten fast. Fasts in the way we think and approach life. For me, the thing I desire to fast from is that constant search I mentioned, from needing and wanting more in an attempt to satisfy the need to fill the empty space of who I am and what I have. I want to fast from activities that don’t serve me and fill up my schedule, and attention, and instead embrace more pausing and resting, as I have talked about the past couple of weeks. I want to fast from acting like I have it all figured out. I want to fast from knowing and certainty and embrace “mystery and waiting”.

As I think about Lent, I ask myself if 40 days is enough time for me to let go of the burdens I have placed on myself and have been carrying. As Vinita Hampton Wright says in the video that I have pasted below (and played with rearranging some of her words for my blog post title), yes, 40 days is enough. I hope, and believe, that it is enough time to begin and then continue each day afterwards, so that after Lent there will be a renewal of hope and joy, a resurrection within me.

As you read this, does anything stir within? What would you like to fast from this Lent? Some of you said that the posts on pausing resonated with you. If so, where can you add more moments of pause during these next 40 days, to choose to fast from unnecessary activity to stay busy? What thoughts and activities can you take a conscious fast from? I would love to hear from you, either by commenting or sending me a message.

Let’s take this journey together.

Peace, Deena

More Resources:

Vinita Hampton Wright’s YouTube Video, Lent is the Season for Truth-Telling. This was one of, if not the first video I listened to Vinita. It’s a favorite!

Judith Valente’s PBS interview with Brother Paul in 2011: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2011/05/06/may-6-2011-brother-paul/8764/ The interview and the correspondence that followed led to a deep friendship and also a partnership on a book released in 2021, How to Be: A Monk and a Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Forgiveness & Friendship.

Abbey of the Arts is a virtual monastery and global community that offers programs and resources that nourish the contemplative practice and creative expression. I discovered Abbey of the Arts at the beginning of the pandemic, taking many of the online retreats and programs offered in the course of the 2 years and have continued since. These programs and the virtual community nourished my spirit and filled my heart and mind during the desert time of being at home. Christine became an Amma, or desert mother, who helped me transform the seclusion of being at home into a time of growing awareness of the cave of the heart. It’s time to return there.

Image is a paper craft design I created.