It is the Season of Lent, a time before Easter when we set aside the regular busy-ness of life, turn down the volume of sounds which compete with our listening to God, and lean in to Him a little more, a little nearer, a little closer – so that when Easter comes, we may be more ready to celebrate His great gift of LIFE. Yes, it is a time to sometimes give up something that might impede our closeness with Him — a sacrifice, if you will. But the giving up of something (like chocolate or alcohol) is never effective in its spiritual discipline unless it’s replaced with something that draws us closer to God.
So if I give up chocolate, each time I desire it, I remind myself that my truest heart’s desire is to be close to God and I turn to him instead of eating that Snicker’s bar. If I’m yearning for a glass of wine, I remind myself that being filled with the flush of the Spirit’s presence is better than any Chardonay and I turn to the Spirit instead of downing the wine. Anyway, you get the idea.
Well, penance is a concept that has often been linked down through the ages with Lent. It seems to have started because Lent was a time when Roman Catholics intentionally observed the Sacramental Rite of Confession and as they confessed their sins to the priest, the clergy often administered a “penance” or a way in which the repentant sinner could outwardly demonstrate their regret for the sin confessed and forgiven.
Penance simply defined is “an act or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin.” In our Anglican tradition and in most Evangelical Christian settings, you won’t find penance used much anymore. But I actually find there are times for “proper penance.” Sometimes the person who has sinned, confessed and been forgiven, can be helped by doing something practical or spiritual to remind themselves that they are free from this sin and the act of penance can be helpful in “cementing” this separation.
Well, I had a “proper penance” yesterday. No, it wasn’t spiritual in the true sense; it had to do with my surgical recovery – but it has some spiritual overtones. Here are the players, the scenario, and the proper penance:
~ My doctor – in this analogy, she functions like the priest or pastor shepherding the patient/sinner in their process of discipleship/recovery
~ Me – I have been given a set of rules which I am to follow so that I may recover from my broken state and be more physically healthy as Christ would want me to be
~ I “sinned.” There I said it. I didn’t follow the “rules” set forth for surgical recovery and overdid — imagine that. I suffered a lot of pain because of that, especially my left arm which quite frankly felt at times like it would fall off in the middle of something important, like celebrating Eucharist or opening a mayonnaise jar.
~ I saw my doctor yesterday. It was kind of like going to confession. In the seriousness of her office, I confessed my sin of going way past the boundaries she’d given me for post-surgical recovery.
~ My Confessor (Doctor) was NOT a happy camper. She scolded me like a Jewish mama. She said I’d not suffered any great set-back but I was to amend my ways and stop this foolish behavior!
~ After surgery, you have drains which leave your body and you carry around like weird little hand grenades (see picture at top of this post). The tube begins at your incision site, leaves your body and the “hand grenade” collects the fluid and goo and gunk that doctors don’t want storing up in your body and causing infection.
~ Drains are icky, sticky, messy and downright uncomfortable. I mean, where do you put them? No matter where you try to hide them on your body, they stick out like a bad tumor! People pretend not to notice, but they are just being kind — they are about as obvious as a huge zit on the end of your nose. There is no hiding a surgical drain!
~ I really wanted my last drain removed yesterday, but my “proper penance” was that because of my acting badly with my recovery, I must carry my dumb drain around for at least a week. As my dear doctor said, “If you’d followed the rules, your drain would have been removed today, but because you didn’t, it stays in for one more week. You did this to yourself!” That’s what we call “tough love.”
~ Each day I see the drain (my “proper penance”), it reminds me of two things:
1. My sin of not following my doctor’s orders — and I regret that. God forgives me. My doc forgives me. And I’ve forgive myself. But my drain is still a living reminder of my sin.
2. I am committed to keeping the rules this time. No more messing with the guidelines for surgical recovery. As I said to my doctor yesterday after her scolding. “I’ll be a good girl, Mommy, I promise.”
Well, friends and family, see how God can even use the practicality of surgery, drains and such to teach us about Lent, about sin, about amendment of life and yes, about proper penance?! He’s amazing!
So how’s your Lent coming?
Love and blessings,
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.