Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a religious observance among Christians. Some Christians are required to observe Lent by their religious traditions, and given specific guidelines for doing so. Some disapprove of it on the grounds that it isn’t scriptural, but a human invention. In the mainstream Protestant churches, Lent is, as our pastor said on Sunday, not a requirement but an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity for some deep thought. We can have a Lenten sacrifice or Lenten discipline to help us think.

Lent is a remembrance of the forty days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before the crucifixion, and many people spend Lent contemplating that. They give up soft drinks and, every time they want a soft drink and then remember “oh, no, I can’t — I gave them up for Lent,” they consider the suffering Christ endured and compare it with their own suffering and are humbled. This single-minded focus can make Lent a very contemplative time.

I like to do a Lenten study. I already know my own thoughts, and focusing on someone else’s thoughts can be surprising and enlightening. I’ve done studies on Handel’s Messiah and on hunger, the environment, God and physics, simplicity, the women of the Bible, and a variety of other topics which must have made less of an impression on me because I can’t remember them now. Lenten studies are different, for me, because a well-chosen sacrifice or discipline causes me to be reminded many times during the day of the subject I’m learning about. Done right, Lent can be a spiritual journey that leads to real change in my life.

So this year I’m studying about work. I’ve already read through the books I’m using, the Life@Work Groupzines, and I was impressed by them, but I was also in a hurry and didn’t really answer the questions or do the writing or even look up the scripture verses, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work through the books and get the most out of them.

My work life has changed a lot in the past year. Two years ago I was writing about the new thing I had discovered — SEO — and my new experience of working from my home as a telecommuter. One year ago, settled into and enjoying my new kind of work, I was also going through uncertainty in the business I worked for, and that culminated ten months ago in my change to freelance work. Now I’ve gone through the business start-up, I hope, and it’s time to move past that and into a more balanced life.

The first reading in Life@Work is about balance, about the idea that we have to juggle our responsibilities and opportunities in the areas of family, community, church, work, and self. We’re reminded that there are times when it is necessary or appropriate to devote more time and attention to one than to another — small children need a lot from us, a new business requires lots of work, a crisis in our health may force us to be self-centered for a while, events in our community may demand our concerted attention. But the authors remind us that the main thing about juggling is the need to keep all the balls in motion, and not to concentrate on any one, lest they all fall down.

The questions ask how comfortable we are with the idea that balance requires constant movement and change, and how we respond to dropping a ball or two — and how we think we should respond.

I’m not comfortable with the idea that balance requires constant movement, as readers of this diary of mine know. Whenever I feel out of balance, and it has happened many times over the years I’ve been writing this, I yearn for a return to normalcy. I come up with plans for getting back to that fleeting sense of having a normal life, and am always reminded of the scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in which the computer predicts that things will return to normal as soon as we determine what normal is. If I went back through this blog and calculated the percentage of entries in which I’m saying that I need to get back to normal, well, I think I’d be embarrassed by it.

Last night in class we read about the people of Israel’s whining in the wilderness. They were subsisting on manna and complaining because they remembered that in Egypt they’d had fish and cucumbers and melons and garlic. It had slipped their minds for a moment there that in Egypt they’d also had slavery and harsh overseers and plagues and stuff. They were, our speaker said, comparing their circumstances with their fantasies about how life was supposed to be.

I do that a lot. That is, in fact, my answer to “How do you respond when you drop a ball or two?” I get het up over it and fret about it until I can get the balls picked up and juggle them again.

Lent is a religious observance, and it therefore makes sense, when faced with a question in a Lenten study, to check out what the Bible has to say on the subject. If you are familiar with the Bible at all, then the verse that comes to your mind when contemplating these questions is very like to be the same one that came to my mind, and to the mind of the authors as well: Philippians 4:4-6, “4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

So, yeah, that’s how we should respond to dropping a ball or two. How different might our lives be if we did that?