“A Season of Preparation”

I’ll admit it. There was some swearing. After a solid hour and a dozen YouTube videos, I still couldn’t figure out how to get the fresh braid to wind smoothly onto my new baitcasting reel. I had viewed clips of professional anglers threading the line through the guide and observed three or four different ways to attach the line to the reel. I’d watched the whole process from different angles and taken notes of each fisherman’s “special” tips and tricks for tightly loading the reel. Yet each time I turned the crank, I got the same results – loosely wound line that I knew would quickly devolve into a tangled bird’s nest if ever I tried to cast it. Surely, this would have gone faster if I’d just taken the lot to the sporting goods store and let someone else do this for me. But then that would have defeated the point.
You see, having caught the fishing bug in a hard-core sort of way, I knew that there would be a lot of fishing line in my future and that not all of it would need to be replaced when I was conveniently close to the aforementioned sporting goods outlet. If I was going to take this seriously and truly enjoy my future trips without any of them being cut short due to my ineptitude with the line, I needed to learn to do this for myself. On this particular night, doing it for myself meant I needed to keep trying.
I checked the line weight and verified again that I’d purchased the correct product, then (with a sigh and a bit of mumbling) tried just one more YouTube video. And there it was! There was one more tension knob on the reel – one that as a spin caster, I had been unaware of – but it was there, loose as a goose, wriggling about in ways that made it look like a seductive 1920’s flapper. With a couple quick twists, I cranked it down and suddenly… everything changed. Five minutes later, the reel was fully loaded with tight, evenly spaced line, ready to be fished. I had conquered the beast.
As I reflected on the incident, I began thinking about the parallel between the exasperating evening I’d spent prepping my gear and the Lenten journey with which so many of us are now currently engaged. The truth is, we live in a society which often values efficiency over growth. Recognizing that there are limits to our natural or developed skill sets, many of us opt to find other more gifted individuals to handle the trickier situations in which we find ourselves. (This is why I pay someone else to do my taxes!) This inclination toward delegation is often beneficial – particularly for those who are in or aspire to accede to roles in leadership. However, it can also be detrimental to our well-being.
You see, while there are things that others can do for us (fixing our cars, making our clothes, preparing our meals), there are some things that we simply must do for ourselves. No matter how well our food has been “predigested” or how efficiently medical apparatus may deliver it to our gut or our bloodstream, no one else can force our bodies to absorb the nutrition it provides. No matter what machines are pumping oxygen into our system or helping to remove carbon dioxide from it, no one else can make our bodies properly employ the resource. Life requires a connection with the “life source” – something beyond the raw materials necessary for survival.
As a hospital chaplain, I was sometimes called upon to attend to the bedside of an individual whom the doctors had declared “brain dead.” To all appearances, the individual was still alive – their heart was beating (because an electrical pulse from a machine prompted the muscular contraction), their chest rose and fell with each “breath” (because a machine was pumping air in), but they themselves were no longer alive. Take away the machines and within moments there was silence. It had a sobering effect.
Without the “Source” there is no life. While this is easy to see in a medical sense, this truth often gets a bit obscured when it comes to the more spiritual aspects of our existence. After all, it only takes a quick Google search to uncover an unending supply of sermons by pastors who have “predigested” the Scriptures for us or charities who will perform acts of discipleship on our behalf. In a world in which efficiency is often valued over growth, it has become extremely easy to delegate our spirituality to others.
Yet the repeated invitation of our God is not to an outsourced form of religious engagement, but to a relationship with the one and only “Life Source” (John 1:4, 14:6; Romans 5:18; 1 John 5:11-12, 20). Confronted with temptation during His 40-day desert fast, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Humankind shall not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). And this is the point of Lent – the season of preparation.
My enjoyment of the upcoming fishing season is closely linked to the decisions I make regarding delegation and growth. In choosing the former, I may save some time in the present – but I’ll lose out in the long-run as a much-coveted day on a lake or pond is cut short by my ineptitude at handling a common angling complaint. And the same applies to our walk with God. Our decision to take the long preparatory walk of the Lenten season – to fast (from food, Facebook, or something else), pray, and read the Scriptures, to seek communion and connection with the “Life Source” – makes all the difference when it comes to our ability to handle the challenges which face us in our daily lives. With that in mind, let’s make the best of this final week and grow together in faith and love.