Lent is meant to be a time for reflection and self-discipline focused on the gift of sacrifice Christ made on the cross for us. It is 40 days of intentional fasting, prayer and spiritual practices designed to bring about renewal and deeper intimacy. Many churches offer multiple services each week during Lent to help their parishioners take advantage of preparing their hearts for Easter.
This also means Lent for church staff can signal extra hours at work and many additional projects and tasks. Instead of 40 days of spiritual renewal Lent becomes a season of weariness from lots of late nights and early mornings. This can easily turn into cynicism toward this beautiful time in the Christian calendar.
A good first line of defense to avoid this is healthy boundaries and the ability to say ”no” when necessary. However another way to avoid this cynicism is through the lost art of positive reframing. Reframing is a psychological technique where you choose to look at a situation or event from a different perspective. We can choose our viewpoint, whether positive or negative. We tend to forget this and when something happens that is unwanted or uncomfortable it is easy to slip into a negative mindset.
The truth is that no matter what struggle or situation we face, we alone choose our attitude and perception of the situation. This is why some people seem to handle stressful situations with more grace than others. We all have the art of positive reframing in our mental box of tricks. So often, as the old saying goes, it is “mind over matter.” We decide whether we will be miserable and irritable or positive and cheerful. Our circumstances don’t have to determine our mood or feelings.
The even better news is that as believers the Holy Spirit can and will help us as we choose to positively reframe our circumstances. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” The Lord wants us to be able to handle difficult circumstances in a notably different way because we are changed and marked by His presence in our lives. Yet we have to choose to tap into this gift of His presence and we can do this through reframing.
There are certainly times of incredible stress and emotional pain, during illness and loss, where we desperately need the peace and strength the Lord offers. However, there are also simply times of inconvenience and frustration where we can live differently by practicing positive reframing. Instead of feeling frustrated that the speaker for the noon Lenten service cancelled suddenly leaving you scrambling for a message, you can ask the Holy Spirit for discernment and transparently share a Truth you have leaned on recently. While the weariness felt from a frantic schedule can lead to mistakes and hurried days, you can also use this season to lean on the tremendous volunteers in your congregation and let them carry some of your load and allow them to be blessed in return from the joy of ministry.
Positive reframing does take practice and it certainly is an act of my will. Our initial reaction to a negative and stressful circumstance is to spiral into complaining and feeling overwhelmed. It takes practice to pause and take a step back before deciding how to respond. It is the same way we encourage a child to take a few deep breaths before reacting. We can ask ourselves:
What am I feeling?
Why am I feeling this way?
How do I want this to turn out?
What is the positive thing in this situation I can work with?
What can I learn from this?
You can process these questions in a 30-60 second time period and then decide how you want to respond instead of simply reacting. Through positive reframing we can mark our path toward peace with healthy interactions instead of creating roadblocks with sharp words and a bad attitude. It is amazing how often we forfeit our control over situations by choosing powerlessness when we react and let our feelings dictate our responses instead of taking the time to reframe the situation and THEN respond.
It is a choice. Lots of days it may be a choice you have to make even many times within an hour. For Lent this year I am practicing the art of positive reframing. I’m hopeful it will become a healthy new discipline in my life.
What frustrating situation in your life can you take the time to positively reframe right now?