Yes, I just published this post 127 days after I wrote it. The irony of this, given the title, does not escape me. ~Sherri, July 9
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday—the first day of Lent. The forty days (not counting Sundays) that lead to Easter weekend are associated with the length of time Jesus was tempted in the desert before beginning his earthly ministry, but they also remind us of the last days of his earthly ministry.
Lent serves as a sort of “ticking clock,” which is a literary device that limits the time the protagonist has to achieve the story goal. The ticking clock propels us through a story and creates a sense of urgency. Will the protagonist achieve the story’s goal before time runs out?
The countdown of Lent provides us with a similar sense of urgency regarding spiritual disciplines. If we give up something for Lent, will we be able to fight off temptation until the Lenten clock runs out? If we begin doing something beneficial for Lent, will we still be doing it when Easter arrives?
Yet we don’t practice disciplines like fasting and prayer simply to see if we can or to rack up gold stars on heaven’s “Good Little Boys and Girls Chart.” Lent should remind us of a more profound sense of urgency that leads us to the quiet of prayer and examen—the urgency that comes from being like the protagonist in a novel who doesn’t know when the clock will stop. Will I achieve my life’s purpose before my time runs out?
Each day we hear about life stories that have ended or are soon to end. A few life stories are long and well-told. Others ramble on like a purposeless Twitter feed. Some short life-stories leave us baffled and wanting to know more. No matter how a life-story ends, death makes us reconsider life. During reflections like these, this question often comes to the surface: how do I know what my purpose is in life?
That question brings us to another lesson we can learn from storytelling. A protagonist will not choose to pursue the story goal until the inciting incident occurs. This is an event that makes it impossible for the protagonist to continue to live with the status quo. Like the ticking clock, the inciting incident creates urgency that requires the protagonist to move forward despite obstacles and internal misconceptions.
So where are you at in your life story? Have you experienced an inciting incident that changed the course of your life making your purpose and life-goal clear? Are you muddling along in the middle avoiding obstacles and ignoring the ticking clock of life? Or are you drawing near the end and wondering how to finish well? Wherever you are at, consider embracing the quiet urgency and disciplines of Lent. Pray in secret in a quiet place as Jesus instructed his disciples in Matthew 6. In the quiet, listen. And let your question change from Will I achieve my life’s purpose before time runs out? to Our father…your kingdom come…your will be done.