I’ve made quite a few commitments on this blog over the years. I’ve committed to not eating sugar (that lasted almost three years). I’ve committed to creating a series of online retreats (there’s one up and active right now, with a dozen people signed up). I’ve taken on a commitment to write poetry during Lent. There are others, including commitments to leave the Big Arena and learn the lessons that come with failure. I don’t know if you’re like me, but looking back, it seems I’ve made a lot of commitments in my life.
The fruit of those commitments isn’t always obvious, or lasting. I did give up sugar—but eventually went back to it. I did write poetry—but I have dry spells where I don’t write anything for months. Does this mean I’ve failed? In one sense, perhaps. In another sense, perhaps instead I’ve learned more about myself and about how I learn, and try, and try again.
We’ve learned a big lesson in our back yard this week. We have a perennial pond problem. For whatever reason (and many theories have been postulated), a big puddle forms in our back yard whenever it rains. (Here in the desert, we seldom get light, gentle rains. We get infrequent, large deluges that come through and drop a lot of water in a short period of time.) We have discussed a variety of options for addressing the pond, which comes up to the base of the house and looks worrisome, but always dissipates into the soil within twenty-four hours.
This summer we had a discussion with a landscaper who lives in the neighborhood and has helped us with a few projects over the years. He suggested digging a large hole and backfilling it with rocks, to allow the water to collect away from the house. Henry decided that he would spend the autumn doing that project himself and devoted a lot of mornings to working on it. He still hasn’t completed it; it’s just a hole, no backfilling yet, but it got its first test this week.
We had our first significant winter rainstorm in the early hours of Friday morning and learned that there is simply too much water. The hole filled quickly, and the pond formed anyway. It was frustrating, to say the least. In one sense, it felt like a lot of work had been wasted. As I thought about it (yes, at 3 a.m.!), I realized that the best way to avoid frustration was to remember that commitment I made to learning the lessons of failure.
My father spent his career as a research scientist. Research is usually a process of learning from failure. You make a hypothesis, test it, and learn from the results. Much of the time, the results are not what you expected. Rather than getting frustrated and angry or giving up, you treat it as an opportunity to learn something and move on.
I think, in this case, what I’ve learned is that we need to create a riverbed instead of a hole in our back yard. We need to focus on moving the water away rather than collecting it. Rather than feeling that we’ve wasted our time, we need to focus on what we have learned as a result of our backyard test.
It’s not always easy to live through these lessons, and I don’t like how I can act when I get frustrated. So, I’m making some Advent commitments this year, focused around the theme of letting go. I’m thinking of this as a kind of Lenten Lite, where the commitments are about perspectives that I want to release, to make room for the incarnation of Jesus in my heart. I am ready to release some aspects of my character that I believe are unhelpful, to myself and to others.
The first thing I want to let go of is frustration. I want to carve out a mental riverbed and let the frustration flow away when it arises. I pray that the space left open can be filled with curiosity about what different perspectives or solutions might arise to address whatever problems or issues I’m facing.
What commitments might you like to make in this season of Advent? What might you like to release, to let flow away, in order to make more room for Jesus in your heart?