A couple of years ago I was challenged by a peer to “take on” rather than “let go” for Lent. Now, as a former Southern Baptist (which I was for almost 25 years) the idea of Lent has always been somewhat foreign to me. However, as I have gotten older and found my way into more of a liturgical community I have found that not only do I find great value in some of these observances, but I enjoy them and feel a sense of renewal in my spiritual life when practiced.
As a hospice chaplain, I can find myself in numerous crisis situations within a day. I may be called to a time of death, a family dispute or some other kind of crisis situation. I am expected to be present and in some way hopefully encourage and educate a family on how to cope. Living and working in crisis can change a person. Some become cynical or “rough around the edges” (I am talking about myself here); others withdraw and isolate from family and friends. Either way most people who are drawn to these kinds of working professions are drawn usually out of desire to “do good.” I am not talking negatively about a desire to do good, but I am suggesting we take caution and continually monitor our own desires.
While in seminary I was warned about the “clergy ego.” The idea that the pastor can do anything and should be able to do anything. I mean, after all, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). As I write this I am rolling my eyes, but that is for another blog on another day. I want to hold this issue of the clergy ego for just a second and discuss how it relates to female clergy. Let’s be honest: women in our culture may have the vote and may be in the work place, but in some ways are still considered second class citizens. Now, please do not think me as a raging feminist who spends her free time burning her bras; in all reality I am very much an egalitarian. I am just pointing out that women are most of the time the caregivers. Think about it who fixes breakfast, who packs the lunches, who does the laundry, the dishes, and who keeps the family calendar, etc. We are taught to “take care” and this transcends our homes, community and work place. So where is the “ego” in this? Are women taught to have ego? Should women even think about ego, or should we just do. Ok, I’ll stop! :0)
I know what you are thinking, how does this relate to Lent? Well, getting back to the challenge of my peer, this year I have decided once again to “take on” for Lent. I am taking on self care of my whole self: mind, body and spirit. Below is a parable I found a few years ago (if I knew who wrote it I would give them credit), but I love this parable. For me it speaks to the gamble we take when we neglect ourselves while taking care of others.
The Little Girl and the Ungrateful Snake
A young girl was trudging along a mountain path, trying to reach her grandmother’s house. It was bitter cold, and the wind cut like a knife. When she was within sight of her destination, she heard a rustle at her feet.
Looking down, she saw a snake. Before she could move, the snake spoke to her. He said, “I am about to die. It is too cold for me down here, and I am freezing. There is no food in these mountains, and I am starving. Please put me in your basket so I can rest and please take me with you.”
“No,” replied the girl. “I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite me, and your bite is poisonous.”
“No, no,” said the snake. “If you help me, you will be my best friend. I will treat you differently.”
The little girl sat down on a rock for a moment to rest and think things over. She looked at the beautiful markings on the snake and had to admit that it was the most beautiful snake she had ever seen.
Suddenly, she said, “I believe you. I will save you. All living things deserve to be treated with kindness.”
The little girl reached over, picked up the snake gently placing him in her basket and preceded toward her grandmother’s house.
A few minutes later the snake spoke to her again. “Thank you” he said “but if it’s not too much to ask I am cold, can you put me in your coat pocket.” The little girl thought for a moment and decided to grant his request.
Upon reaching her grandmother’s cottage she discovered although her grandmother wasn’t home, there was a fire and plenty of food. The snake popped out from her pocket, “Oh, please little girl, I am still so very cold could you place me in front of the fire? The little girl did what he asked. She then went into the kitchen to make herself a plate of food.
“I know I have asked a lot from you” he said, “but if I could please have one more thing.” What is that she asked, “Could I please have a saucer of milk?” As she leaned over he lunged at her, biting her on the hand.
“How could you do this to me?” she cried. “You promised that you would not bite me if I would protect you from the bitter cold.”
The snake hissed, “You knew what I was when you picked me up,” and slithered away.
May all of us remember the value of self care especially my female clergy friends. Thanks for all you do!