When I was at theological college, we had a workshop on personality type, based not on Myers-Briggs or enneagrams (though we did that, too), but on recipes for Pumpkin soup. It was very revealing. The handout we were given provided four sets of instructions for pumpkin soup: at one end of the spectrum was a highly scientific method, with every ingredient specified, weighed and measured, and each part of the process timed to the second; at the other end of the spectrum was a vague description including the line “don’t worry if you don’t have any pumpkins, you can use pretty much any vegetable…. throw it all in the pan…. etc”. We were told to go and stand in groups, based on which version of the instructions most appealed to us. Those of us in the ‘vague and improvisatory’ corner looked with horror at those in the ‘scientific and precise’ corner (and they looked back at us with equal horror), and the other two groups simply laughed at both of us! It was a quite wonderful illustration of the reality that we may think we’re looking at something in a completely ‘normal’ way, but that doesn’t mean we’re seeing the same thing as the person next to us, and we may think that our way of doing things is perfectly good, but that doesn’t mean that others will be able to work with us in the same way.
So, why the sudden interest in Pumpkin soup? Because one can approach pancake batter in a similar way. I once read a recipe for pancake batter, and the first time I made it, I even used my kitchen scales. Thereafter, I’ve reverted to type and estimated everything (and no, I don’t even consistently use the same flour each time – sometimes it’s self-raising, sometimes plain, and sometimes I put butter in the batter and sometimes I don’t – on a whim – and yes, that would drive some of you mad….). To be honest, I make a pretty good pancake – my children have endorsed my skills in this area, and they don’t really care about the method as long as the end result tastes good with honey, or chocolate sauce.
Reflecting on the pumpkin soup and pancake batter, though, is a great way of reminding ourselves that just as we each have a slightly different ‘default’ setting when it comes to cooking, we also have our own comfort zone when it comes to our spirituality, our prayer life, our style of worship, the way that we express our lives as followers of Jesus, and the way that we approach the season of Lent. There are those who have a set discipline and follow it every year, and there are those who pick something different each time and explore new things; there are those who give things up and those who take things on; there are those whose Lenten journey is reflective and those for whom an active approach is more fruitful. There is no single right or wrong answer for how to keep Lent, because we are each unique.
Lent can be a time to get out of our comfort zone, especially if we’ve got stuck in a rut in our spiritual lives. But it can also be a time for finding what’s at the heart of our real comfort zone, and learning to root ourselves in God, becoming more truly who we are.
Remember that when Jesus went out into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days and nights, he went out with the sound of encouragement and love and affirmation ringing in his ears from the day of his baptism: “You are my son, I love you, and I am pleased with you.” Jesus was able to take that ‘comfort zone’ with him into the discomfort of hunger, loneliness and temptation.
May this Lent be a time for all of us to work out what is at the heart of us. A time for becoming more and more who we are, and finding that when our roots are deep, the walls that prevent us seeing things from others’ points of view will crumble and fall.