Goodbye Grumblings

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My new approach for Lent: Showing up instead of giving up

When I was growing up, I often gave things up for Lent: caffeine, chocolate, romance novels. I don’t remember if doing so made me more reflective and penitential; it was just something we did as a family. It did make me look forward to Easter (chocolate), though.

It’s been years since I’ve given anything up for Lent, and that’s partly because I couldn’t settle on something. This year’s Ash Wednesday service was on facebook, like so many other services are these days. I appreciate the small handful of people who have been showing up to put these services together. The music, readings, words of the service, even seeing the inside of the building and the play of light on the trees outside give me a taste of the familiar.

I miss the solemnity of the in-person Ash Wednesday service. As the service that launches Lent, it’s usually a real contrast to bright Sunday morning services. Fewer people come, it’s deep, dark winter outside. Everyone is subdued. A priest’s gentle thumb brushes ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. Afterwards, we slip away quietly without the usual after-church chatter. This year, the video ended, and there I was, still on facebook.

Even though the service didn’t feel the same, it made an impact. A line from one of the readings struck me and stayed with me:

Where your treasure is, there is your heart.

Paraphrased from the book of Matthew, The Bible

I thought about what I was treasuring, where I was placing my attention and focus, where I was spending my time. It wasn’t comfortable to think about.

In the past couple of months, I’ve been getting nudges that I need to adjust how I spend my time. I ignored them.

Nudge number one came when I was working on a blog post about good things during the pandemic. Some of the good things are entertainment, and I stand by them. It’s okay to take a mini vacation from reality sometimes!

My entertainment of choice is stories. I have always escaped into stories. A book smuggled outside when Mom kicked me out to play on a sunny summer day, a book under the covers with a flashlight. The six-hour Pride and Prejudice mini-series when I was sick or needed couch comfort. Short story podcasts to make a long commute pleasant. For the past few months, much of my free time has been consumed by stories and crocheting. I was lacking in moderation. Lots of input, which left little time for thought or creativity. Writing that blog post made me think about where I was spending my time.

Three adults sharing a house, we have found ways to carve out our own space, even if it’s virtual. In the evenings after supper we often sit companionably in the living room, each consuming a different media, occasionally coming out of our bubble to share something interesting or funny.

In January, I took a webinar called “Structuring Life to Support Creativity” by Sandra Tayler. Balance was a key concept. Nudge number two. Still fairly easy to push to the back of my mind.

Then, the Ash Wednesday service and that line of scripture that stuck with me. I want to treasure my spirituality and my writing. Nudge number three was impossible for me to ignore.

The next day, I picked up my early-morning writing habit. I’ve been doing this sporadically since starting to work at home, but I had drifted away from the habit. I didn’t have a firm plan or goal in place that morning when I sat down in front of my computer. I pictured some kind of meditative writing, a vague being-open-to-the-universe hour during which I could not only progress in my writing, but also somehow work on my spirituality. Oh, and maybe even learn more about what I’m supposed to write. Maybe I could get just a hint of my life’s purpose, as a treat?

I am an optimist, but even I understood quickly that that was an awful lot to expect from one hour. Clear goals are important, I reminded myself. Writing is one thing, and working on my spiritual life is another. They are related, of course, and writing helps me think more clearly and deeply about everything, including my spirituality. But I realised I needed to do something every day to work on treasuring my spirituality. It needed to be manageable. I have tried at various times to add different habits into my life and when I get too ambitious too fast they don’t even last a week.

That first day of writing helped me put into words that I’ve been feeling unsure about my faith, that it’s been feeling thin. I have been missing the things that nurture it: singing with people, praying familiar prayers with people. Taking communion. Writing prompted me to ask myself a squirm-inducing question: what I have done for my faith to keep it strong?

My house plants are pretty good at surviving without water for weeks or a month, but they get limp and pale eventually. My faith isn’t getting its usual nourishment, the regular physical attendance at church and everything that goes with that. I’ve been attending church online for almost a year now. Other than that, I’ve done little to focus on my faith. If I was talking with a friend who was feeling that her faith was flagging, I’d suggest reading, praying or meditating, and even talking with people to nourish it. I’d suggest giving some time to it.

I needed a plan.

Of course, I thought of books first, always my favourite solution. Just acquiring books on a topic feels like I’ve started working on it! Then I thought of podcasts and blogs. So many possibilities! Before I could start down that path of distraction, my writing time for the day was up.

The question of how to feed my faith sat at the back of my mind all day, and I finally convinced myself to go for a walk after work to get some unstructured thinking time. Leaving my headphones at home was a small victory.

My brain was busy, but after a few minutes of trudging through the fresh snow, once I won the argument with myself and kept going instead of turning around and heading home after five minutes, because ugh, it’s winter and I’m so done with that, I remembered that I was hoping for some kind of insight.

Okay, I’m here. Ready for wisdom. Hello? Even as I reminded myself and God that now would be a great time for some insight, I had to scoff a little at my own impatience and arrogance. It’s expecting a lot to go on one walk and get an immediate answer.

My mind wandered and I got into the rhythm of walking. I stopped stressing out about getting an answer. If nothing else, at least I was out in the fresh air getting exercise.

Then, a quiet thought: Just pray.

My mind wandered some more, then I noticed the thought.

Wait! That was not a monkey brain thought! Could it be that simple? The more I considered it, the more it felt right. It’s a pretty basic plan, but it felt more real and useful than searching for the perfect book or podcast to guide me.

I usually pray before sleep, but since my glasses are off and I’m under the covers, I most often fall asleep before I get through my list. I decided that to pray, while upright and wide awake for at least 10 minutes a day. It seems like just a drop of time in a day, but it feels manageable and right. I started right away while I finished my walk. It was a start.

As of writing this post, I’ve been writing for an hour and praying for 10 minutes every day for seven days. It’s working well. Here’s this blog post, for one thing. I’ve been experimenting with praying. Walking and praying work well for me. Folding laundry and praying don’t. Shovelling snow works better than folding laundry, but not as good as walking.

I’m interested in how other people are nourishing their spirituality this year. What kind of habits help? Has it been more difficult during the pandemic? If you’ve given something up for Lent, what was it, and how is it going? If you’re comfortable sharing, leave a comment or write to me at susan at

Here’s some good to hold onto: the days are getting longer! We might be buried under snow here in Ottawa, but we’ve had some bright, bright days, and when I stepped out on the deck to look at the trees a few days ago, it felt warm on my sock feet. Have a lovely day!


About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

8 Replies

  1. Recently, when watching an online service with my favourite Reverend, I decided to sing along. It felt strange, hearing only my voice echo in the house, instead of that soul-stirring lifting of voices from the group of worshippers (I how I miss them). But it also felt right. I think we need to honour the loneliness. It’s real. Live, real, in-person church is one of the things I miss the most, during the pandemic (along with live, real, in-person yoga). It’s the sharing of space, the sharing of song, the PRESENCE. It’s harder to feel God’s presence, in the absence of each other. But, I still feel Him. We’ve been talking, He and I. Or just, more often, sitting together. I visualize Him holding little me in the palms of His very large hands. It helps. He’s most often with me in the shower, of all places. But also, when I fall asleep at night. When I meditate. When I walk the dog. Not so much when I’m doing dishes, but, I don’t think He’d mind, if I were to ask Him to help me out then, too.

    1. GrumblingSusan

      What you say about presence really resonates with me, Rae. Thanks for reading and for commenting. I keep hearing about people sitting with God, and I struggle to understand what that means exactly. What are the instructions, part of my mind demands. I think making my attention available is my first step. And though I like everything clearly set out and orderly and explained, I’m working on being patient. I remind myself that it’s personal, it’s not likely I’ll get it wrong, that it’s a practice and that I’ll see what it feels like by doing it. I do feel more peaceful afterwards. It feels like a little bit of progress.

  2. Lorie

    I enjoyed this post as always, Susan. Your description of the Ash Wednesday mass reminded me of how much I enjoyed the Good Friday mass. It’s equally quiet and somber, and even as a kid I loved the dark stillness of it. There is a lot of noise in the world and few pockets of quiet, except for the ones we create ourselves. I think you’ve taken such a great path in reconnecting with your writing and spirituality. Looking forward to more posts!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thanks for reading, Lorie, and for your comment. I love the Good Friday service too, with the stripping of the altar. It’s so intensely symbolic. It’s surprisingly difficult to make a ten-minute pocket of quiet sometimes!

  3. Auntie

    I have found over the years that my prayer life has evolved as I have… in the early years it was a quick spurt of yearnings and requests, and off I’d go to sleep or otherwise! Slowly over time the yearnings turned into reflections and ponderings which led me down paths of conquest and learning of things I had known nothing of before! Finally in my more golden years my prayers have become a constant conversation with my lord, some days I know not what to say so I let him do the talking and other days I can hardly keep my mouth shut for all the things I want to say! I rest better when I know these conversations have taken place and things get settled, and then peace and serenity seep into my soul!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Hi Auntie, I love the idea of that long and constant conversation. Love to you!

  4. Janet

    Hi Susan,
    Like you, our church has gone virtual, and for a brief time when we had masked, socially distanced, in-church worship, no singing was permitted. I’ve been in the choir all my life. It seemed unnatural to hear the piano play and not sing the hymns. After the service, no coffee hour, no handshakes or hugs. We were asked to exit the church immediately after the service.
    Re my spirituality, in spite of hating winter, I have gone on many winter walks, driving to the nearby trails such as Stony Swamp (Beaver, Jack Pine and Sarsaparilla Trails). I feel closest to God in the woods or by a lake, when the beauty and vastness of nature remind me of my connection to something much larger than myself. I bring seed and treasure the experience of chickadees trusting me enough to land on my fingertips to feed. The forest is the perfect setting for prayer or thoughtful meditation.
    One thing I have not done in months is sing. Sharing a home with two other adults makes it impossible without feeling self-conscious or disturbing others. I still need to figure out how to start singing again.
    It sounds like you are on a good path. Thank you for your writing. It made me thing about these things… what has been lost, what has been gained.
    Take care!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thanks for reading and your lovely comment, Janet. I know what you mean… I miss singing hymns too! Somehow it’s just not the same when I hum them to myself. You remind me of what it’s like to just get out in nature and be still, listening to the sounds I don’t notice unless I stop. Take care as well! Susan

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