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Making Space for God


February 12, 2021

By Rev. Sandy Nenadal

The season of Lent will soon be upon us, and so much has happened in our nation. We continue to face rising infections and deaths from COVID-19. The Capitol building was rocked by violence, and a new resident has been inaugurated. In the midst of such turmoil, like me, you might be wondering how we can stay grounded in our faith. I began reflecting on this question in January as I thought about the spiritual disciplines I might use during Lent this year. My thoughts turned back surprisingly to a hobby of mine, counted cross stitch.

Last fall, I decided to make some counted cross stitch baby bibs because my son and his wife were expecting their first child. Although I had learned this type of hand embroidery years ago, I had not attempted any projects since their wedding. It is the one craft I have mastered because it is easy to learn. Counted cross stitch uses an x-shaped stitch to create an image on a cotton fabric. The fabric is composed of threads packed together in the weaving process to form blocks. The blocks form squares you can easily see. You stitch an x-shaped stitch over each block. Using a set pattern, a person can choose the color of the thread and count the number of spaces in the grid to know where to stitch. Eventually, the design becomes visible as you stitch.

I had one problem. I could not find any bibs made out of cross-stitch fabric. Eventually, I purchased plain terry cloth bibs and a special material called waste canvas. I basted it to the bib and then had a grid with the same pattern of spaces, so I could cross stitch the designs. The waste canvas served as a guide for my work.

Reflecting on the waste canvas and the ability it gave me to create a design on each bib led me to think about spiritual practices that have shaped our lives.

Over my lifetime, I have used a number of different spiritual disciplines in order to seek God’s guidance. Whether it is reflecting on the Sight Psalms through The Upper Room website, taking a prayer walk where I work, using prayer beads or the questions of the Examen, I have found different tools essential in searching out the pattern God is creating in the design of my life.

On Ash Wednesday, we will once again enter the season of Lent. As we reflect on our failings over the past year seeking God’s forgiveness, we may also choose a practice in order to listen more carefully to God’s voice. Choosing to either sacrificially give something up or add in a new spiritual practice can stretch us and help our faith to grow.

The framework of the spiritual practice or sacrificial act, like the waste canvas I used in stitching, creates space where God may choose to add more stitches, change the color of the thread or alter the design to refashion our lives more in God’s image. Just as I needed the waste canvas to guide the process of creating a design on each bib, we need spiritual disciplines to shape the work God is doing to grow our faith.

“Back in the March/April 1987 issue of The Upper Room’s Alive Now!” publication, writer Jean Croker Petke suggested we broaden our understanding of the season of Lent.

She wrote that Lent, “is not just a time to give up a luxury or pleasure, to boost our ego through our denial, to attend a few extra services at church. It is a time of intensive training in Christianity. Plan for Lent, don’t just shove more activities into the same amount of time. The goal is growth, not frustration.”

This year, I am planning each evening to put down my phone and turn off the television in order to spend more time in focused prayer. How might you make space for God’s creative action in your life? Now is the time as we prepare for Lent to plan and choose a discipline to allow God space for God’s creative activity to take place in our lives.