Fasting from Self-Reliance

Today, March 5, is Ash Wednesday. So begins our 40 day (plus Sundays) journey of Lent!

(Just in case Lent is new to you—it was to me a few years ago!—here’s a short video to introduce it.)

Each year, many Christians use Lent as a time to refocus through the Big Three practices of Fasting, Praying and Giving. (More on that here.) And each year I’ve had a sense of what God was inviting me to fast from—certain foods, media, dining out, etc. (Never coffee. God loves me too much to ask that, right?)

But this year I wasn’t sure. I started Ash Wednesday without a chosen fast, and was waiting on God to show me what would be helpful for me right now. And the answer I got was surprising.

This year, God is inviting me to fast from self-reliance.

You see, I’ve always thought of myself as a fairly needy person. I feel things deeply, and walk a thin line between health and anxiety or depression. My closest friends know that I need a lot of reassurance and comfort. This has always seemed like a failure, weakness, shame.

But recently God has been challenging that view for me. And today, as I sat to pray, God invited me to use a single word: “Help!” Not because I’m so shockingly weak. Not because I’m a failure. Not because I can’t pull it together on my own. No—ask help, God said, because that’s how I made you. Needing help is normal.

Kids understand this. They come to their parents for shoes to be tied, homework to be explained, monsters to be chased out from under beds, straws to be stabbed into their juice boxes. Children in supportive homes aren’t often ashamed to ask for help.

Lent is not a time when we fast, pray and give to make ourselves stronger on our own. It’s not a time we prove we’re spiritual athletes, heroes who can endure harsh conditions. Rather, it’s a time when set aside our illusions of self-reliance and independence—or our shame at needing help—and press into the love of our Father who loves to give.

I’m embodying this fast by spending 15 minutes a day sitting quietly before God, with my simple prayer: “Help!” And something tells me, that’s the most grown-up prayer I’ll have offered in a long time.

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Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week & Eastertide is now available!

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We are excited to share that Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week & Eastertide is now available! In this second volume, seasonal activities and readings guide families through a journey with Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection as he invites us to follow him as his disciples.

The season of Lent starts March 5 with Ash Wednesday. This devotional will lead you through to the end of Eastertide at Pentecost.

You can download a free PDF of the book, or order a physical copy from Amazon.

Thanks to everyone for going on this journey with us!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Good Dirt Families community!

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

—W.H. Auden, “Christmas Oratorio”

Thanksgiving: Tell a Story

Gratitude requires steely-eyed attention. We are never grateful for abstractions. We are grateful for particular events, persons, actions, beauties, “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.” (To borrow from the First Epistle of John.) Gratitude is always told in the form of a story—my story.

Why is that I am tempted to give thanks for broad-brush generalities? I expect to be asked today to rattle of a litany of thanks. And like many of you, I find it easy to turn to tried-and-true gestures that no one can get their hands or head around: God’s grace. Family. Second chances. You know the drill.

There’s nothing wrong with being thankful for God’s grace—except we’re never thankful for “God’s grace” as a sweeping concept. When we feel thanks, it is for concrete, messy, hands-on stuff. Stuff that can’t be said in a word or two, but requires a narrative.

I don’t know about “God’s grace.” But I know that recently in the midst of a truly rough day, a friend called, and came over, and we ate dessert and laughed and watched a movie and hugged, and I was surprised to feel hopeful and able to face a painful situation again. It was a gift—a gift of friendship, but also of strength and hope.

In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard writes, “You are not separate from your life, and in that life you must find the goodness of God. Otherwise you will not believe that he has done well by you, and you will not truly be at peace with him.” This, Dallas notes, takes work, time, training.

Gratitude is a disciplined, watchful eye over our actual lives for evidence that we have, beyond any reasonable expectation, been included in the life of God. It is hard work. We are trained to observe and note failure, loss, evidence that our world, our life, our body as they are could never house the glory of God. And then, to our befuddlement, there he is.

So, let’s look closely. Let’s take up the magnifying glass of faith and examine the mess of our experience, asking: what is God up to? Where have I seen him? Where does his absence beckon me further than I have been willing to go? Where does conflict invite me to love more deeply than I have dared? Where has sorrow invited me into greater hope than I thought possible? And where has joy sustained me along the way?

And then tell a story.

The Journey of the Church Calendar

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Some of my most vivid memories from childhood are of the weeks preceding Christmas. Under the guidance of my mother, our household holiday regimen was elaborate and anticipated. Early on the morning after Thanksgiving, we were up pulling out boxes of decorations and wondering how the lights got so tangled up again. We assembled the Dickens village (whose residents colonized more of the living room each year until they had expanded into a booming metropolis). We drove up into the mountains to cut down a fresh tree. We swapped out every piece of decor in the house for its Christmas alternative. We hung garland along every available banister and counter. We put apple cider on the grill over the fireplace. The results were dazzling.

And, each Sunday night, we’d gather around the dinner table and light the next Advent candle. We’d sing a song, listen to Scripture, and remember the story.

As a young child, I didn’t really know what all this meant. But I knew it was special. And so I paid attention. Even though I didn’t really understand what it meant, I knew that Jesus was worth the extravagance of lights and cider and candles and Dickens figurines and nativity sets and trees hung with ornaments.

The Church Seasons are a way of living your life by the rhythm of Jesus’ life. We all set our calendar by something. For some it’s the academic year—9 months of toil and 3 of blessed (or chaotic) freedom! For other’s it’s the financial year, or the cycle of Hallmark holidays. We order our lives by these times of remembering, of taking stock, of traditions.

As Christians, it makes sense to set our rhythm to Jesus’ life. We remember his coming and long for his return in Advent. We rejoice that he came among us and wonder at his humble Incarnation for twelve days at Christmastide. We ponder how this God-with-us life is the light of the world during the weeks of Epiphany. Then we hear his call to discipleship and remember our need for God’s help during LentHoly Week is a special time focused on the love of God that led Jesus to die for us—and then the joy of Eastertide begins, “He is risen indeed!” And then we enter into the long slog of Kingdomtide (also called Ordinary Time) when we turn to ask how we can live out the Kingdom here and now.

This journey, round after round, takes the stories we know and the things we believe and puts them front and center. This is what we choose to set our minds on, whether we feel like it today or not. And we trust God that, year in, year out, the stories are sinking in, doing their work, making us more like Jesus.

The activities and ideas in Good Dirt are ways to make the with-God journey visible, tangible, kid-friendly. (And it turns out that what is kid-friendly is usually adult-friendly, too.) Whether your family jumps into Advent Extravaganza like mine did, or chooses a simple Advent Wreath to put on the kitchen table, you are saying, “This is special. This is what we’re going to pay attention to. This deserves celebration!”

We’re so excited to take this journey with you and share stories, memories, ups and downs. As you prepare for Advent this week, may God bless you with hope: the settled, soul-deep certainty of good things to come from Him.

All Saints Day

All Saints Day, public domain.

by Ben Barczi

I’ll start off with an admission: sometimes, I feel like God is asking too much. Some days it’s all I can do to keep from being a total grouch to everyone around me. And here comes the call of discipleship: become like Jesus!

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels too much to ask that I be a student of Jesus. I want to give up and settle for just squeaking by into heaven, thank you. (I have to imagine that some of you can resonate with me here.)

That’s why it feels fitting to me that we’re starting this year of blogging on November 1: All Saint’s Day. We have a great bunch of families who are preparing to share their journey through the year with you, and I’d love nothing more than for all of us—readers, bloggers, and editors alike—to set all of this right in the middle of the long, long family of saints. Continue reading

Good Dirt vol. 1 is now available!

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The print and PDF versions of Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide & Epiphany are now available! The PDF is a free download available here. Print copies are at Amazon.com.

We are so excited to journey with you this year, starting with Advent on December 1st!

About Good Dirt

Good Dirt is a year long adventure for families desiring to grow in Christ and set the rhythm of their lives by the Seasons of the Church. Good Dirt will walk with families through a year of living the Seasons through family activities and information. Each day the family is rooted to Christ through a reading from one of the Gospels. Families will learn how to “Till,” “Plant,” “Water,” and “Weed” their own souls and the little souls that are in their home. Families will not only read about spiritual formation, but will live it out within the greatest social context any human is ever born into: their family. Over the duration of a year, families will practice the spiritual disciplines including the twelve disciplines that Richard Foster writes about in Celebration of Discipline and also others.