It’s Ash Wednesday again. And here I am scrambling around, trying to make preparations to enter fully into this Lenten season. I want our home to reflect the change in the liturgical season. I want to make sure we have the appropriate reminders of penance and sacrifice. I want to make sure to stock the right kinds of food. I want all the best prayer journals, even the most beautiful and catechetical coloring sheets for the kids. I want…well, I want to do Lent right, maybe even perfectly for once.
Meanwhile the loving gaze of the Lord is upon me. He’s just here, smiling, loving me. He’s longing for me to quit doing and scrambling. While I am trying so hard to make it look like I really want what He wants, His loving gaze shines upon me, no matter what my Lenten preparations are. He waits patiently for me to be still, to let go, to simply receive His love.
Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted over the earth. Psalm 40:10
I think I’ve often viewed Lent as an opportunity to enter into battle -- and it very well may be. But until now, I may have been confused about who’s doing the fighting, and what or who the real enemy is. I have too often viewed myself, my sinful inclinations, and many imperfections as the enemy against which I alone am fighting. Lent for me has always resembled forty days of self help, in which I’ve sought to do battle against the evil that has taken root in my own heart. And while this might not be the worst way to look at Lent, I think it’s time I approach it for what it actually is. God is doing the work, it’s really just my job to receive.
This Lent I’m giving up negative self-talk and it honestly feels like an impossible feat. But, I’m okay. I’m choosing to recognize that I am utterly powerless to win this battle against my own depravity. Instead of trying extra hard this Lent to crush my own weakness, I’m giving my feelings of inadequacy to Him. When I fail (because I will) I’ll seek to hear His loving voice instead. And instead of arming myself with a bunch of extra spiritual practices, I’m choosing to put on the full armor of God, and to hide myself in His power -- in order to slay not only my weaknesses, but also the true enemy who has LIED to me for so long about what those weaknesses mean!
I suppose it could kind of sound like I’m kind of wimping out on Lent this year, and maybe I am. But I think the reality is, I’m just in a place of utter surrender right now. I’m realizing that if I ever become holy, it will be His good work in me, not my own self help.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm
against the schemes of the devil. - Ephesians 6:11
It sounds cliche to say "it could be worse". But, it's true. It really could be worse, but dang, that orange juice hit the floor with a fury and splashed onto every surface possible. And it wasn't even the giant puddle that put me over the edge. It was the millions of tiny sticky droplets splattering the cabinets, the tile, the refrigerator, the table legs and the dishwasher. On my hands and knees with a wet rag, holding back curse words, I was annoyed. Really, really annoyed. I had to find every drop before my wife got home.
It’s not the first annoyance this week and it wasn't the only one yesterday. They happen all the time. Wifi is down, someone took your parking space, forgot your umbrella, your child locks themselves and the keys in the car, a massive zit on your forehead, the list goes on. Right? Our days are filled with these small inconveniences that if piled on, can really pull us into misery if we let them.
I think it’s too easy to say that things will get better. Because sometimes they don’t. And if it does get better, for how long? So rather than strive for a life devoid of annoyance, I think we ought to simply choose joy. Joy, because the Gospel is way bigger and way stronger than the things that are bugging us.
And the greatest gift of all?... when we accept these little pesky annoyances with joy, they can become for us small daily workouts that strengthen our virtue muscles and make us ready for even bigger trials in the future.
Few of us are given the gift of great trial. Most of us will become saints by enduring great annoyance.
I'm starting to think that when they write our biography, or eulogize us at our funeral, maybe it's not the worst thing if it's our ordinary discipleship that they talk about. Maybe loving God and loving people in our ordinary states of life, enduring small annoyances with grace, and celebrating life as it comes to us, is enough. Perhaps it's in this simplicity and smallness that we are made holy.
"Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:2-4
I lost my cool today. I mean, I really lost my cool. My six year old son was careening through the house yelling like a banshee with a light saber pointed straight at his four year old sister, who in turn was screaming like a slightly higher pitched banshee. I had already asked nicely, say maybe a bazillion times, for them to stop playing so rough and so loud, and this was the last straw. I can only imagine the ugly and distorted look on my face, as I neatly clotheslined the kid, ripped the light saber out of his hand, and yelled at the top of my mom lungs. “ENOUGH!!”
Cue great big tears and even more unbearable noise than either one of us had yet made. I’m ashamedly certain that the only message my son received loud and clear from my rant in that moment was “I’m so sick of y’all”. Period.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the story. I was able to apologize. I asked for forgiveness for losing my temper, and being so physically forceful. Forgiveness was freely given. Before long, the two of them were happily playing once again, and I was left alone to contemplate my own weaknesses, and the strange economy of our God.
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
2 Corinthians 12:9
This is His economy. So why do I operate on the regular as if, when my weaknesses rear their ugly heads, the Father is up on his throne somewhere, throwing his hands in the air saying, “I’m so sick of you!”
I’ve lived too many days as if this were the case. Too many nights laying awake regretting that I’m weak and vulnerable and imperfect.
Friends, His mercies are new every morning and those mercies extend into the deepest cracks of our identities. He loves us! Just as we are. As a loving Father He desperately wants for us to walk in the freedom of who He’s created us to be. His forgiveness is so freely given.
If I want Him to make and mold me into the mother, spouse, woman I’m supposed to be, I must renounce the worry and regret, and hear the gentle, loving whisper of His voice as he gently calls, “ENOUGH!’ Enough running, enough hiding behind the pain of your weaknesses, wounds, and imperfections. Open yourself to receive, and I will make you whole. My power is made perfect in your weakness.”
"I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
I used to think that we’d eventually find a place in life where we could rest, where we could find balance and security. THE job, THE house, the perfect formation regimen for my kids. If only we had… then we’d be…
But I think I'm coming to realize that's all nonsense. I now know that I can either live dead, or I can live alive. And I haven’t seen any evidence that true life, freedom, and joy involves being safe. It’s actually pretty intense, more liken to a minefield than an oasis. You feel life, when you are alive and participating in it. The good and the bad. The consolation and the desolation.
So today I choose life. Whether it’s washing the dog, visiting with a neighbor, or getting up on stage. I want to bring my entire soul with me. This life, this gift you and I have, is way too amazing to simply pass by safely unaware. The captivating beauty of creation, satisfaction found in work, and supernatural joy in loving relationships. I want to feel life in my toes. I want to feel it everyday. The good, the tough, and even the unwelcome experiences are gifts I want to learn how to receive well.
So let’s quit looking past our life, toward something that's better, more safe, more secure. Let's dance with the life we have now. Knowing that God is making us all better, that He's for us. Everything in our life right now is for our benefit and for our growth.
God’s given us this life to live. Let’s turn it all the way up to 11!
"The path to heaven lies through heaven, and all the way to heaven is heaven." - St. Catherine of Sienna
Suffering is not optional for the Christian. 'Cause if you are really following Him, His steps lead right up to the foot of the cross every. single. time.
I wish it were different, but I don't make the rules.
He just told us to pick it up and follow Him. And so we do, and in the process He makes us more like Him.
We don't get to choose our cross. Jesus doesn't lay out a bunch of crosses and then we get to decide which one fits our time commitment or our state in life. They are what they are. Ours. We just have to decide to pick it up or not.
God's making us better through our ordinary struggles everyday. Quite often the ordinary, the mundane, the every day IS the stuff our crosses are made of. Another tantrum thrown by the tiny humans you're attempting to parent or spending your work day biting your tongue with a toxic co-worker -- even these crosses can feel weighty, especially before we choose to pick them up. Of course, sometimes we get the gift of a big heavy cross. Those are the real opportunities to be like Jesus.
Whatever your cross, suffering is hard, but we know what it leads to. Resurrection.
Proceed in hope.
Feel Abba's embrace.
It's all going to be okay.
There is resurrection.