Do you know what February 22nd is? Yeah, yeah, Ash Wednesday, for millions of Christians around the world. Catholics, in particular, are called to prayer, fasting, and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Before Ash Wednesday, they are supposed to wrestle with something that they LOVE – A LOT –like chocolate, or cussing, or binge-watching those stupid TV shows and give it up for those forty days. Good luck with that and your commitment to exercise too! We’re so pathetic when it comes to the teeniest bit of “suffering”.
But there’s anotherevent on this day that everyone, faithful and heathen alike, will be celebrating. Something easier to stick to. It is – drum roll, please…
National Margarita Day!!! Olay…olay…olay…olay!
It is a sad commentary for all people of faith that they seem to compete with each other. Think of how many faithful Catholics receive their ashes on a throbbing forehead after reveling the day before.
Ash Wednesday should be one of the most sacred of church seasons. You see them everywhere, people with those strange ashes on their foreheads. You want to reach up and wipe it off for them because you think they don’t know it’s there, “You have something on your forehead. Let me get that for you.”
Some people focus these forty days entirely on the “giving up” aspect of it. Chocolate sales are probably higher on the days leading up to Lent than on Valentine’s Day! Perhaps that’s how Valentine’s Day got its start! Ya’ think? People began buying copious amounts of chocolate in February, and someone at Hershey noticed. It probably had nothing to do with St. Valentine. It’s a commercial windfall for Hershey and Hallmark. Cha-Ching! But I digress.
The morning after Ash Wednesday and National Margarita Day may appear to be similar.
You wake up wondering if you really want to do this again.
You feel an emptiness you can’t define.
You wonder if you did anything the past year that you’ll regret confessing because you conveniently forgot that one nasty faux pas you should have mentioned last year. OOPS.
You shower that already-faded reminder off your forehead and act like it never happened. You check the mirror. Thank goodness it’s not a tattoo!
You ask yourself, again,“Why do I put myself through this forty-day review of all my shittines… Every. Single. Miserable. Year?!”
You question if any of it even matters.
National Margureta Day:
You wake up forgetting what happened the night before.
You feel an emptiness you can’t define.
You wonder if you did anything stupid the night before. You usually do, and someone you were with will probably remind you, or point out that tattoo they warned you against.
You down a couple of aspirins for the headache.
Then, you ask yourself – again – why you continue to do this when the outcome is always the same?
You question if this annual event should be struck from your calendar!
Like it or not, they will both be back. You just have to decide which one you will allow in because it really is up to you. Alcohol will try to force its way into your mouth. Jesus will gently knock on the door of your heart. One will try t’kill’ya, and the other wants to bring you back to life. You decide.
Here is the beautiful lesson of Lent we can all take away, “Lent is not about giving up. It is about finding. It is about healing. It is about cleansing. It is about weeping. It is about reconciling,” says Carla Mae Streeter, O.P. (one of my former professors.) And only a person in love truly “gets it.” That’s where remembering becomes critical. Of course, we must never forget the suffering of Christ and the Love that hung on the cross on Good Friday. But that cannot be where it ends.
We must take our remembering into Easter Sunday and beyond – and rejoice! Death has no sting. Hell has no victory! God loves us that much! If we forget that, if we become so caught up in the “more important” things in our lives, we lose, and Satan wins. John Eldridge tells us that “the story of your life is the story of the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it. We must never forget that we are part of a greater story.”
Lent has something to teach us, no matter what our faith is, that it’s about remembering. And who doesn’t need to be continually reminded of who we are as God’s beloved? (Also, when you walk out your front door this morning, remember that God loves your neighbor too – because he threw up on your lawn last night!)
Even during the most difficult of times, are we aware that we are truly being held by a Mighty, Awesome, and Loving God? The richness of your life comes from a promise kept by the God who LOVES YOU DEEPLY AND PASSIONATELY. If the cross doesn’t prove that, if the empty tomb doesn’t prove that, if the resurrection doesn’t prove that, nothing will. You were created for love. Try to remember that.
I recently celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday. I think sixty-five years is a loooooong time to be doing the same dumb things over and over. I also think God agrees! I believe that’s why he is intent on repeating himself until I – hopefully (hope springs eternal) – change.
Let me say that God has done some pretty incredible work in my life! And there have been significant changes over the years. But there is one thing, and unfortunately, it is the main thing I have refused to succumb to: Humility. Oh sure, I can lay claim to superficial humility. You know, that surface stuff that implodes the first time some jerk gets on my bad side!
And so, like our poor friend Phil, I go to bed every night with good intentions and wake up the next morning, finding myself stuck in the same place.
Remember when Phil said to Rita, “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned, and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me”? That would make a great metaphor for my life and probably all our lives to one degree or another, except for the “without a scratch” part.
Here’s how my life has unfolded:
I was once a concept of God’s wild and magnificent imagination. I can envision all the angels in heaven dancing for joy at the sight of every single creature God brings to life. Then, without warning, I was plopped into a broken world, and life immediately began re-creating me into the person God no longer recognized. And the angels fell silent.
Through life, I, too (metaphorically), “have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned”. First, by those entrusted with my care. Then, by my own attempts to live within the context of that person. Everything this Original Creation was supposed to be, became unrecognizable. My focus was not on living with joy and the fullness of life promised to me. My focus became simply a matter of survival, like Phil waking up every day in a world that never changed.
I tried to end my pain too. I didn’t have a groundhog strapped to my steering wheel, and it wasn’t on railroad tracks. Instead, it was me drunk in my little MG on the highway, praying that I would crash and die. Phil’s reaction when his attempt to kill himself failed was, “Ah, nuts.” Mine was the same. I think my exact words were, “Great! I can’t even do this right!” I remember getting out of bed that morning and going off to work: same empty life, different day.
Over the years since that not-so-fatal day, much has happened. As I said before, God has done some remarkable work in my life, considering my incessant resistance to the death of my own will. We have been through so much together! When I think about what he has managed to accomplish in this continual wrestling match, it has been nothing short of a miracle! (Genesis 32:22-32)
After Phil described his torture, he exclaimed that there was “not a scratch on me”. I couldn’t say that, but I did think that “not a scratch on me” meant symbolically that no one ever noticed that I had changed. Considering that has made me, and God, very sad. Since God recently raised the issue again, and not so subtly, I knew that a lesson was coming, and it wouldn’t be pretty.
Sure enough, I have embarked on a new meditation titled “Bridges to Contemplative Living”. A compilation of the works of Thomas Merton and other Spiritual Giants. I know God is ever so gently loosening my white-knuckled grip on my self-will.
You know how you get a song in your head and can’t escape it? How about just a word: Humility? Of course, as is God’s mysterious way, and because I have been in total denial of my lack of humility, I am confronted almost daily with examples of “Who do you think you’re kidding, Linda?”
I’ll give you one example, but my head and heart are still reeling from the raw truth of many more! Reality bites. Can I just say that?!
Within all of our relationships lies the truth of our faithfulness and sinfulness, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. If we’re not afraid to face that truth, there are powerful lessons to be learned.
So…humility. I recently had a conversation with my husband. Okay, let me restate that. I had an angry confrontation with him concerning a family matter that I felt was going badly. I wasn’t angry with him but wanted him to know how I felt about the situation. So God sat quietly while I whined and wailed and wore myself out. Then he stepped in and stuck a big fat mirror in my face!
I had to sit with that and realize that my anger stemmed not from the current situation but from many years of trying to defend my fragile ego and pride. It isn’t just with this particular person but everyone who pushes my ever-so-delicate buttons. And I hear God say, “Humility…Linda. Let’s give it another try.”
Here’s what God has been showing me in the process of the mediations, prayer, and almost daily experiences that provide the litmus test of how I’m doing. I think it’s some pretty awesome stuff. Let me know what you think!
What I believe has set this entire process in motion did not begin in the last couple of weeks. It started with my hospice training and work with dying patients. You get a much different perspective on life when you sit with the dying. It is impossible to fully understand the richness and beauty of life if you cannot face the reality of death. They are both part of one continual journey and cannot be separated. Though death is something you can choose to ignore, participation is mandatory. For some people, death is just one thing on a long list of “How did that happen?” moments:
Every day he ate a carton of ice cream on the couch, watched TV, and got fat. He scratches his head and wonders how that happened.
She was doing 90 in a 30 with no driver’s license and went to jail. How did that happen?
She was walking on the tracks, got run over by a train, and died. How did that happen?
Anyway, the beauty of humility seems more and more appealing to me as I sit vigil with those who are actively dying. Things that always seemed to matter diminish in significance. I witness what’s really important to those with so little time to fool with ego, pride, and self-centeredness.
If we consider the wasteful things we busy ourselves with, it’s astounding. Like we’re going to be here forever. Yet, working with hospice patients has finally begun to awaken me to the truth of my own life. That Ground of Being hidden behind the false self-created long ago.
The Scriptures and meditations I want to share with you were not “dug up” by my efforts. They unfolded before me just as God planned. This, by the way, should be a powerful lesson for anyone who thinks that God does not want to be deeply involved in the details of our lives. This has happened too often for me to believe otherwise. Now, if I can just get out of his way, perhaps humility is not impossible – even for me.
The following is a list of thoughts, Scripture verses, and quotes that have gradually caused me to loosen my grip on my pride so God can do what he does best: Love me. I hope and pray that I will surrender to that Love and be the empty vessel he desires.
Matthew 4:25, “Great crowds…followed him.”
Meditation from “The Word Among Us”: “People are going to be attracted to Christ in you – not you (my emphasis). Your joy, your peace, and your love will grow, and that will attract people to you.”
OH, MAN!!!! I thought it was all about me!
Have you ever felt rejected? I have, most of my life. Even today, there are people I feel rejected by, and I react to them with unkindness. But, how often do I consider the times I reject God by those thoughts and actions born of pride and cultivated in arrogance?
Lord, I pray for your forgiveness for putting so many things ahead of you. You love me so much and feel my rejection so profoundly. You cannot make me love you, though you love me unconditionally. Help me to sit in silence in your presence and teach me how to love. By your power and grace, help me to let go of the things that fill my thoughts and keep me out of relationship with you and those you bring into my life.
Mark 6:34 says, “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them.”
Not so much the hearts of his disciples. All they did was complain. Jesus said to feed them. And their response? “What, are you kidding? There are thousands of them.” They counted the meager change in their pockets, “You can’t expect us to just call out for pizza. Let ‘em’ get their own food!”
Jesus always shines a spotlight on our smallness while beaming his might and power at us. In those moments, there are always thirteen disciples. I’m standing there with them all indignant about my weaknesses and inadequacies, forgetting the Source of my power. He’s trying his best to get through to them, and me, and you. He even humbles himself, for heaven’s sake! “I can’t do anything without my Father!” (John 5:30) But, do we listen?
We are all called to love; to have faith and trust and hope; to be filled with joy and peace; called to humility which underlies it all. None of this is remotely possible if it is not born of a heart filled with awe and wonder at God’s magnificence, power, and glory. None of it!
Matthew 3:13-17, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you are coming to me?”
There is a whole bunch of humility going on here! John the Baptist never felt worthy “to tie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7)”. How often are we willing to decrease so Jesus can increase?
And think of Jesus himself allowing John to baptize him. He wasn’t a sinner and didn’t need to be baptized. Yet he humbled himself before everyone to lead the way to his Father.
What I was led to consider this day was the fact that I am not Heartland Hospice’s Chaplain. My ID badge doesn’t proclaim that I am; my supervisor, although recognizing that I “qualify” as a hospice chaplain, reminds me that I am a volunteer.
Up to this point, I have made it a practice to tell people I was a “volunteer chaplain” – I had to get it in, and technically it’s true enough. But, I have slowly, and ever so profoundly, been admonished by God. He rolls his eyes and repeatedly shakes his head at my need to pump up my false self. But the more I sit with dying patients, the more I realize how little it matters. No one has ever said, “Thank you for being a chaplain.” They say, “Thank you for coming.” That’s all. They thank me for my presence, not any vast wisdom or knowledge I think I possess, and they need to hear. They’re dying; they could care less about my degrees or accomplishments.
Reading that verse was like a one-two punch. No, God doesn’t punch, but I’m telling you, he flicks! I have been flicked often enough to know. And it hurts. Because he’s not flicking my head, he’s flicking my heart!
You see, everyone I know, friends and family, know I have a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies. How many of them, I wonder, look at how I treat people and make a note to self: mistreating people must be okay if Linda is doing it. After all, she’s the “holy one”.
I am supposed to be, we are all supposed to be, giving witness to God’s love in a hurting and broken world. But if all others see is my brokenness, how will they ever have hope?
When we go our own way, we obey the parts of God’s command that are easy and discard the parts that don’t appeal to us: Love your neighbor – check. Love your enemy – scratch. Is it any wonder God hates that? Are we putting forth an image of ourselves – more importantly – an image of God that others can use to justify their own sinfulness?
I want to say that I have finally conquered this one, but I know better, and I’m pretty sure there will be another lesson tomorrow…
and the day after that…
and the day after that!
It’s funny; the Scripture verses here are not new to me. “HOLY COW, I never knew God felt so strongly about THAT!” – Liar! They have just been an inconvenient truth. They demand something I have not been willing to submit to. I pray that is all changing. The power of humility lies within every one of us. We have no excuse to believe or act otherwise.
Some day you’re going to apologize to your neighbor (who hates you, by the way) for backing over his cat and blaming it on the mail carrier.
Some day your humdrum existence will magically transform into the fairy tale life you have always dreamed of.
Some day you will hit the lottery and buy your neighbor a new cat. Okay, you won’t do that because you’ll move to a deserted island where you won’t have any neighbors.
If you believe one morning you’ll wake up, and your butt will have fallen off as you slept – that’s right – you’re delusional. (You might want to lay off the chocolate darlin’)
Wanna know where I’m at as I write this and why my thoughts went where they did? I am sitting with a dying hospice patient. I’ll call him Fred. I can’t show you a picture of him for obvious reasons, but I can show you a picture of the wall I’m staring at in his room. It’s 2:30 am, and I have been staring at this wall for two hours.
Fred has little family, and no one visits him. He was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease when I first met him, so we were never able to communicate. I have no idea what he did for a living, but for now, he is my teacher, like all the patients I see.
I know what you’re thinking. How could someone who has lost the ability to respond to their environment or converse with anyone teach you anything? How could they impart words of wisdom like Mahatma Gandhi, shine a light on injustice like Martin Luther King, and inspire Jesus’ call to “serve the least of these” like Mother Theresa? Well, they can’t….
They can sometimes do more – at least for me – at this moment.
When I meet a new patient, I first look at the pictures in their room. Some, like my dear mother-in-law, have their walls and shelves cluttered with family pictures. They make for great conversation. But here’s my buddy Fred with four blank walls.
What am I supposed to do with that? I have discovered that that is the wrong question. The real question is – what is God wanting to teach me here?
It is no coincidence that at this very time, I am reading a most profound book by Kathleen Dowling Singh, “The Grace in Dying”.
So, what am I finally learning at this late stage in my life? What I have grown to believe from Gandhi, King, and Mother Theresa, has been personified by Singh and Fred.
Singh’s book moves from words on a page to experience that reaches the depth of my heart as I sit here with a dying man. I have grown to appreciate that this is Holy Ground and that God is truly present here.
I sense that God is trying to tell me during these times to review my own life. He calls out to anyone with ears to hear, “You’re gonna die too. Maybe even today. So, get your act together!”
Because I have a warped brain (DUH! Surely you know that by now), I had to laugh because that reminder sent me to this cartoon.
At this stage in life, considering priorities is surely in order, don’t you think? Can we stop obsessing over things that don’t…actually,never did...matter? Stop dwelling on old hurts, lost opportunities, and someone else’s expectations? Stop striving for more and more of what someone else will trash before you’re cold in your grave? Stop trying to control everything? Stop shadowboxing? Donate those skinny jeans that will likely NEVER fit you again (geeezzzzz)?
Singh tells us, “When we are deeply aware of our own impermanence, every fleeting moment is recognized as precious. Our desire to be present in each moment amplifies. Meditating on death instantly calls us to question on the deepest of levels. What am I doing? What do I want? What does this all mean?Contemplating our own mortality…our precariously impermanent existence can call us to complete and thorough accountability. It can call us to instant reordering, a rearranging of our priorities and our intentions. It blocks off all of our habitual detours into denial.”
The bare walls in Fred’s room don’t tell me anything about Fred, but they signify two realities for me: (1) To ask honestly if my life has been empty and void of significance. (2) God always offers us a clean slate – to begin again if I have failed to fulfill my purpose.
Thank you, Fred. In your dying, you are teaching me how to truly live while there is still breath in me.
Now, go in peace…I pray…into the hands of our loving and merciful God.
I know many people, and I’ll bet you do too, perhaps even you, who can’t believe God has a plan for them. Over the years, I have encountered people who don’t believe me when I tell them my story. “Oh, really?! God told you to do that, huh? Right!” To be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if he hadn’t gradually brought me to a place where I could trust him, even if I was fearful and had no idea what he was up to. Which, frankly, is still most of the time.
God has always longed to grow me into the person he meant me to be. It was me resisting; me not being present to him; me missing the mystery and majesty that surrounded me because I was just too busy to notice, or more likely, too afraid. So instead, I skipped along, trying to drown out his voice, “Lalalalalalalala, I can’t hear you!”
For years, there were little promptings that, in hindsight, proved to me he was on the job (Romans 8:28). Then bigger ones that required more trust and offered way more grace than I deserved. God opened my heart in ways I could not have imagined. Though I still mess up – and often – I know God’s response is out of love for me; his admonitions tell me that he loves me too much to let me stay stuck in my messiness.
We are so used to being in a world that is loud and demanding of our attention. We busy ourselves filling in uncomfortably quiet places.That’s how we miss God’s “still small voice” or “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Sure, he’s good at those show-stopper whirlwinds and earthquakes and fire. Even what I have called 2×4 moments but they didn’t leave marks like the ones my mother inflicted. Because of her, I was always on guard for those “laying down the law” whacks that I expected from God too, when I messed up. But, I believe he more often speaks through Spirit’s whispers of pure grace.
We can be so enmeshed in and blinded by the things of this world we miss out on our whole purpose for being here. So if you are going through life day after unremarkable day, schlepping through the same routine to ad nauseum – STOP IT! Your life has a purpose that God depends on you to fulfill. You matter that much!
We are all called to holiness, called to use the gifts and talents already given us for God’s kingdom work right here – right now. It just takes awareness on our part. (I would highly recommend Anthony DeMello’s book by the same name, “Awareness”).
Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, considered a masterpiece, was written just after his own “profound spiritual awakening” and conversion experience. While lying on his deathbed, Ilyich ruminated about the reality that his entire life was superficial and self-serving, and he profoundly stated, “Maybe I didn’t live as I should have done?” In the end, he posited a question that Tolstoy must have pondered himself, “What if I really have been wrong in the way I’ve lived my whole life, my conscious life?” Oops, a little late, buddy!
It was too late for Ilyich, but not Tolstoy. He discovered his purpose and rejected his aristocratic life to follow Jesus’ teachings – particularly the Sermon on the Mount. Years later, his writings profoundly impacted Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless others.
Soooooo, what are you waiting for? You must still be breathing, or you wouldn’t be reading this. That’s a start. Incredibly, no matter how you lived your life to this point, it’s not too late to begin again. New beginnings are God’s specialty!
“To infinity and beyond!” God coined that phrase, you know. Don’t believe me? HUMPH! Check out Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
Alrighty then, you’re pumped and ready to go, right? You’ve packed your sandals, camel hair coat, and checked Google Maps – for what? A sign from God?
Stop! Take a deep breath. Maybe start by sitting quietly with God and waiting.
Don’t look to anyone else to give you a formula or a checklist to send you on your way to your destiny. But I will tell you this: You cannot love and serve others (which is our greatest calling) until you can love yourself. And you can’t love yourself utilizing any of the myriads of self-help books on the market. You can only do that by growing in the knowledge that you are deeply and passionately loved first by the God who created you! And you can only do that by being in relationship with him, which requires your time and attention. You are his son/daughter with whom he is well-pleased (Matthew 17:5). Let that sink in. We are all deeply loved sinners. It’s high time we act like it, don’t you think?
Absolutely, go to church, take the time to read scripture, and pray, But mostly, LISTEN! Geeeezzzzz, we’re so bad at listening.
Many people use, and believe the expression, “the patience of Job”. Actually, Job was not a patient man. Perhaps a bit more patient than his lovely wife who told him to “Curse God and die!”– And his so-called friends who insisted God had exposed him for his wickedness. Their accusations had no limits:
Eliphaz, like most people in Jesus’ time, believed suffering was a direct result of sin; that suffering exposes you to God’s wrath – you’re busted! Sadly, many people still believe that.
Eliphax tells Job that he suffers at the hand of God because “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”. (Job 4:7-8)
Bildad chimes in, “God has rejected you because you’re evil!” (8:20). Ouch!
And, of course, not to be outdone by the others, Zophar annihilates any sense of worth Job may be clinging to, “You’re a damn fool! Waxing poetic nonsense like you can dupe everyone, even God. Are you crazy?! We’re going to hang out here until God decides to give you a piece of his mind. And he will. You watch. If you weren’t such an idiot you would reach out to God while you still have breath in you!” (Job 11-14). Honestly, that’s all in there. Okay, I might have taken some license with it.
So, would “patient” be the appropriate verb for Job? After all, he admits, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (Job 3:26). I do, however, believe Job endured more hardships than most of us could possibly imagine. So, let’s give him that.
Then, there was God, who was eerily quiet until he came storming out of the whirlwind (38:1-40:2) into Job’s broken heart, revealing his power and majesty. And what was Job’s response? How could it have been anything other than “what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth” (40:4). And later, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). So, I think we could also give Job credit for finally surrendering to God even in the midst of his suffering; even though he still had no idea why God allowed him to suffer such pain and loss. God owed him no explanation and Job no longer questioned him.
As for me? How long have I been questioning God? Forever, I think. Questioning often grew into whining and whining into mistrust until I felt I would never know the deep faith I so longed for. I was too afraid and too busy trying to control my own destiny. I talked about surrender and wrote about surrender, but felt my hypocrisy would one day be exposed because I wasn’t living it. Easy enough for me to tell you to surrender your life to God! Go on now. You’ll be fine. Honest.
In all fairness to my fragile ego, in two of the major events in my life: writing a book and going to graduate school, I did get the first part of God’s calling right, “Go”. The problem was my need to second-guess him; to run ahead of him. But, let’s go back to where it all began.
God said to me one day, out of the clear blue, “Write a book.” Long story short, it was a work in progress for ten years: written, rewritten, and self-published twice. Writing the book was the part of God’s call I listened to and accepted.
The part I added later went something like this: “I’ve just written a book! Since this came from you, Lord, I can only assume it’s going to be on the New York Times best-seller list! WOW! I can’t wait!” When that didn’t happen, I began to grow weary of God failing to meet my expectations and started to whine and complain, again, “God, why did you have me write this book? There have been so many mistakes made in the process. You knew I didn’t know what I was doing. So, why? Why? Why? Why?” Those incessant questions were born out of my feeble attempt to control the process and the outcome.
The next chapter begins with a friend asking me to speak at her church. I muttered a few words in God’s direction, “Lord, if you are now calling me to speak, even though this is also something I never would have imagined doing, then I will do it.” I enrolled in a Speakers Training Workshop, had promotional DVDs made and mailed to everyone I could imagine would care. I was offered a few opportunities to speak, and although I was extremely nervous – actually scared to death – they went well and the feedback was positive.
Wait, don’t leave! There’s more! In 2006, I was approached by my pastor to consider a program that would entail studies for a graduate degree in Pastoral Care (I still have the laugh lines from that one!). Seriously, I was nine credit hours short of an Associate’s Degree from a community college, and this was a graduate program! Right! To appease my pastor, I completed the application forms certain they would not accept me.
When the letter came I confidently opened it. My assumed rejection began with “We are pleased to inform you…” Wait, that’s not nice! You are pleased to tell me what I already know – I’m a loser? However, the letter went on to say they had accepted me.
“Oh shit!” That’s what I said. Those two words usually only come out in extreme circumstances like a car coming at me head-on, being stuck in a burning building, or having Robert Redford knock on my door and I’m in my bathrobe and curlers. (Yes, I’m that old!).
An impossible and immutable reality was staring me in the face and, again, I was scared to death! But I went, frightened and uncertain, and graduated in 2009. Glory be to God – well, and to Linda, who, after one semester of preaching classes, and a head full of myself, determined that I would probably become the female Billy Graham on the preacher’s circuit. But, alas, more dashed dreams of fame.
I was supposed to move right from graduation to a position as a Pastoral Associate in my comfortable little church. Yep, you guessed it, that’s not what happened. After three grueling years of studies, I was told that the position was not available due to a lack of funding. So, there I sat in my pile of poopy dreams and unfulfilled aspirations as an imminent writer, speaker, preacher, and/or Pastoral Associate faded into oblivion.
For three years, I have been bellyaching to God just like Job. And then it happened. God’s preferred method of attention-getting for me is a 2×4. While driving down the highway, minding my own business – from out of nowhere – WHACK!
God: “Are you paying attention, Linda?”
Me: “I am now!”
Suddenly, I was pummeled by God, or at least that’s how it felt, with a review of the course of events that had transpired. Here’s a chronology of those events:
My book is the story of how God reached into my pain and suffering at the hands of others, and my own sinfulness, and spoke healing into my brokenness. He used the process of writing the book and the opportunities I had to speak to continue that healing, which in turn, has helped others who have shared their own experiences with me.
Graduate school was really, really, REALLY a struggle for me. Writing graduate-level papers and reading the works of theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard Lonergan, made my head explode! I was anxious for most of those three years. I felt inadequate at best and downright stupid at worst.
Academically, I felt I was not on the level of most of the other students – always looking over my shoulder and waiting for someone to show me the door. I got some of it, forgot most of it, yet, somehow, in the process, I grew spiritually in ways I could never have imagined.
One of my last classes dealt with the foundations of ministry. I remember my professor telling me at the end of the semester that I had a simple way of approaching ministry that would serve me well. He was telling me that I didn’t need to feel incompetent because I couldn’t put together a string of theological thoughts that would rival the best in the field. But I didn’t understand or appreciate his words at the time.
Just before graduation, I asked my pastor, “Do I still have a job when I get out of here?” He replied matter-of-factly, “No.” I was shocked! He stated that because of the economy they could not afford to hire an associate. I was devastated and shaken to my foundation. Fear got the best of me. If I was going to apply for a position in a different church, how would I fair in the interview process? Even though I had a 3.7 GPA, I had little confidence in my abilities, especially since I knew there would be lots of applicants and very few positions available. Oh yeah, and I was old.
Do you see how God has moved in my life over all these years? I didn’t until that fateful trip in my car last week, when all of these events and situations came flooding into my head – then my heart. And, just as with Job, God spoke:
Linda, Linda, Linda, what am I going to do with you?! I called you to write a book, to do some speaking, and to go to graduate school. Who told you you were going to be a famous writer, speaker, or preacher?! Much of the time you ran off on your own without waiting on me; without even consulting me. You had it all figured out and then when it didn’t happen the way you planned it, you came complaining to me. My time is not your time, my ways are not your ways. It’s about obedience and trust, Linda. I think you are finally ready to hear that.
Why, according to your timing, has it taken so long?It was important for you to feel the pain of the loss and suffering of your past and to go through your own healing process before you could enter the sacred space of others who suffer. This is Holy Ground that I am asking you to step into. You were not ready before.
Somehow you have managed to move in the direction I have called you. You’ve made it an uphill climb, but you have been falling forward, so that’s progress! I placed the desires in you before you were born, and I have set in place my plan for you and long to bring it to completion. If you will just get out of my way!
A few days after the Holy Whacking in my car, I received a Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr. Quite appropriate I think, “All of Jesus’ guidance for ministry…are very concrete and interpersonal. They are all about putting people in touch with specific people, especially with people’s pain. Person-to-person is the way the Gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-touching-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person: that’s where the Divine Presence is so beautifully revealed.“
What a dunce I was, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). I pray I have finally learned to wait on God and know his plan for me is perfect; to trust his infinite wisdom more than my finite and feeble efforts to do things my own way.
And the saga continues…
I would like to conclude with a quote from Glennon Doyle that sums up where I’m at right now and where I hope to stay till the end.
Do you find it beyond interesting that many women in scripture are not named? The “woman caught in adultery” (John 8:1-12), the “woman at the well” (John 4:5-30), and “the woman who bled for twelve years” (Mark 5:25-34). How do you feel about that? Some of you may feel a bit of “it’s not fair” huffiness. Or you may not have even given it a second thought. As for me, I love it! Why?
It’s as though their namelessness encompasses every woman who has lived the same circumstances. It doesn’t matter if she was Jewish or Gentile. Her age doesn’t matter. Her hip size, family size, brain size – none of it matters. To her surprise and mine, sinfulness doesn’t even matter. The only thing that matters is the love Jesus pours out on her and the relationship that follows.
Each of these women has pointed me toward Jesus, whom they met on the road, by the well, and in the court of rejection. Each has given me the courage to lay my burdens and sinfulness at his feet – only to be surprised by LOVE – immersed in grace. I want to speak to just one of these stories and how it relates to my own life.
The woman at the well (John 4:5-30, The Message) This is a long one (I took the liberty to shorten it a bit), but it is laced with pearls! So first, grab a cup of coffee. Now, read it as though you are right there.)
“To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village…. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon. A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?”
The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water?”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst.”
The woman said, “Sir, give me this water, so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”.
“I have no husband,” she said.
(Jesus) “That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
(The woman replied) “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
(Jesus) “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem….But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
(Jesus) “It’s who you are and how you live that count before God….That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship.
The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
Just then, his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman.
The woman took the hint and left…. Then, back in the village, she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.
This woman was ostracized in a town where everyone knew her business. She could not hide from the other women’s ridicule or the condemning stares. So she avoided the courtyard in the early morning when the other women were there, choosing to go when she could be alone. And then…
Here comes a miracle!
Jesus chose to reveal himself (verse 26) to this lowliest of women, to a hated and rejected sinner – to me, “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
By the time I reached my early twenties when a suicide attempt had failed, I often drank myself into a stupor to numb the pain. I was divorced and had a miserable off-and-on relationship with someone as messed up as I was.
And then it happened – suddenly and without warning – Jesus showed up at my empty well! It’s funny; in our misery, we muddle along day in and day out. Days stretch into years. Pain and sorrow become as commonplace as your morning bowl of oatmeal. No surprises. No hope. No desire or longing to cling to. We do life anesthetized. But just leave the slightest crack for Jesus to enter, and all of heaven breaks out into thunderous applause, dancing and singing, and all sorts of merriment! With a wink and a nod from God, Jesus joyfully erupts into our lives!
Does anyone besides me remember Mighty Mouse? I sing the song from that cartoon to my grandkids, and they look at me like I have two heads! But I do it anyway because it’s fun. But then, the other day, I heard my granddaughter singing it, “Here I come to save the day”! That is the picture I get of Jesus when he shows up in our lives. It is awe and wonder in the very midst of our messiness. There are indeed those still-small-voice moments. But I believe he saves those for when our hearts are open to him.
When I drift too far from the well, Jesus becomes a man on a mission, touching the depth of my heart—taking my breath away. Literally! Just like the woman at the well who was blown away by her Jesus encounter. She ran as fast as she could to tell everyone about it. She no longer cared one rip about what people thought of her. She was a new creation in Christ, a beloved daughter of the King, and no one would redefine her ever again! She was forgiven and loved more deeply than she ever thought possible – and so are we – every last one of us!
So, let us not find ourselves at the well of the lost and broken ready to judge and condemn them. Let us not participate in the ridicule of others so many so-called “Christians” piously denigrated in God’s name. I sadly confess that I often forget the sting of being judged as I become the judger – Lord have mercy on me.
You cannot encounter the Living God and not be changed – it’s impossible. So, get yourself over to the well, leaving just the teeniest crack in your heart, and then hang on for the ride of your life!
Well, I’m still here in case you were wondering – or even if you couldn’t care less (in which case, I don’t suppose you’d be reading this). Regardless, here we go…
For over a year, I went kicking and screaming into a new and uncertain reality. In the process, I have slowly, often unwillingly, been discovering who I am in the midst of loss, pain, and sorrow. The world I thought would never change – changed – without any warning.
As I packed up my former self, one box, one picture, one memory at a time, I suddenly realized the uncertainty I had been trying to suppress with superficial words and inadequate certitudes, “I’m fine. Really!”
Many “experts” encourage us to act “as if” _________(fill in the blank) until it becomes our truth. So, I did – or at least I tried. But, in pretending I was already there, I believe I also denied the necessary process of change. So, does acting “as if” my life is often a total shitstorm count? Because it is – no acting required.
Jen Hatmaker beautifully describes the inevitable change of seasons in life:
“It can be difficult to envision a new start but impossible to deny one. This is your work. No one can do it for you. Something doesn’t have to be bad to be over. That season has possibly given you everything it had to offer; it shaped and developed you, and it stretched and inspired you. We are not entirely rebranded with each new season; we simply build the next layer. Throughout transitions, we embody permanent virtues and become deeply shaped. As a testament to our design, we are capable of preserving the best of each season while rejecting the worst. The human heart is shockingly resilient. We need to get better at permission and grace.”
The pictures are packed up, leaving bare walls. It has now become clear that I have been stuck in the past. God tells us to stay out of there and move on, trusting him every step of the way. The past certainly formed my identity to this point. I am grateful for all of its lessons, but that’s not the end of my story or my journey. Hatmaker says: “You can care about new things and new beginnings and new people. Carry on, sister!”
God wants me, wants all of us to boldly step into each new day, believing each life experience, good or bad, will influence how we impact our world. Our loving God has created our most outlandishly gifted, magnificently designed selves for that very purpose.
It’s time to grab onto that desire of my heart that has been sitting too long and aching to be acknowledged, that one passion refusing to fade away no matter how much I have tried to ignore it.
For the year of 2005, my husband and I had the incredible opportunity to live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and work for Habitat for Humanity. During that year we learned about a sectarian conflict there known as The Troubles.
After thirty years of hatred and violence some were able to forgive and learned to love neighbors once considered the enemy. But, there was also ongoing refusal of others to let go of their hatred. Annual Orange Day parades continued to fuel division year after year since the Peace Accords of 1998. Many parents passed that hatred on to their children. Today, the divisiveness and conflict may be played out differently, but it is still a reality, often manifested in rival gangs.
Ten years later, we were in Rhonda and learned about the horrendous massacre of thousands of men, women, and children, slaughtered by their own neighbors. Most of the perpetrators of those atrocities were never brought to justice. They scattered into the mountains or other countries and regrouped. They’re still out there causing mayhem and promoting hatred.
Now, here we are, reliving hatred and strife in America that is pitting us against each other. Extremists groups fueled by years of hatred going back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow are more and more embolden today to act out that hatred. Encouraged by a wink and a nod from the President. Some White Evangelical churches advocating their claim of being “Christian” – cling to power presumed given them by God.
What is going on? Did Jesus lose his way? Or have we reinvented him and relegated him to a dashboard Buddy Jesus bobblehead?
Let’s listen in on a few guys trying to figure it all out for themselves – perhaps you can relate:
One night a few friends gathered in a neighborhood bar. Their conversation quickly turned to questions about how to overcome fear and frustration over the current crisis playing out over their backyard fences, at family dinners, and in the news. The violence and anger coming from all sides made it hard for them to reconcile with their beliefs. They were a varied group: two Catholic brothers – one “devoted” (as in a follower of all the “rules”) and the other lukewarm (as in “rules suck”), a Presbyterian, and a Baptist. After several beers, they found it challenging to reach any consensus on what part they played as Christians. They were even struggling to agree on what a “Christian” was.
Before departing, they jokingly decided to invite Jesus to their whine fest the following week so they could drill him to see if he could help them come to some agreement on the most basic fundamentals of their Christian faith. They weren’t looking for clarity on what was true, noble, and right as much as fodder for their arguments. Something they could use to counter those they disagreed with. But none of them would admit to that. There were stark differences they could not overcome. They each held on to who was right and who was totally on the path to hell. At an impasse, they would let Jesus decide.
So, on the allotted day, they all showed up for a second installment of “My god can beat up your god”. And who shows up? – Jesus (through the front door, not the wall). “Hey, guys, what’s up?” Still in shock that he actually came, they offered him a chair and a beer…or…uh…wine. He took a seat and declined the alcohol, “I’m driving, but you go ahead.”
Then, right out of the gate, one guy at the table explained what had happened the prior week and why they invited him (as if he didn’t know…DUH!). Anyway, the conversation begins but immediately deteriorates into the same dispute as before. Each of them chimes in with their “beliefs”. Then someone has the foresight to ask the “Expert” sitting right in their midst, “Jesus, how would you resolve this?”
Jesus sits quietly for a moment, and then the men observe his eyes welling up with tears. They are shocked and don’t know how to react. Why isn’t he angry and pounding his fist like we do? Why isn’t he pointing out people to blame? There are plenty of them: the media, politicians, white supremacists, and other so-called Christians.
Jesus’ weeping felt akin to when their wives would cry about something they could not get their heads around – like the broccoli soufflé that fell right before Christmas dinner with the in-laws. And, buddy, you learned quickly that your response better not be some lame man-up comment because you just want that awkward moment to be over! How’d that work for you? Exactly.
This Jesus moment was like that. Sure, he was known to throw a few tables around when he got mad, but we only see that once in all of scripture. why don’t we just put that angry, show em’ who’s boss, can’t-control-his-temper-just-like-me Jesus to rest? Sorry.
So the world is falling apart, and Jesus weeps. That’s it? That’s all he can offer us? What are we supposed to do with that? Well, let’s see:
Joan Chittister says of weeping,“Indeed, few of us see our weeping as a spiritual gift or a matter of divine design. But we are wrong. Weeping is a very holy and life-giving thing. It sounds alarms for a society and wizens the soul of the individual. If we do not weep on the personal level, we shall never understand humanity around us. If we do not weep on the public level, we are less than human ourselves.”
The Rabbi Hanoch of Alexander offers, “There are…some things that ought not to be endured. There are some things worth weeping about lest we lose our sense of self. We must always cope with evil, of course, but we must never adjust to it. We must stay eternally restless for justice, for joy. Restless enough to cry out in pain when the world loses them.”
Chittister concludes, “If we do not allow ourselves to face and feel pain…our lies about life shrink our hearts and limit our vision. It is not healthy, for instance, to say that massive poverty is sad but “normal.” It is not right to say that sexism is unfortunate but “necessary.” It is not human to say that war is miserable but “inevitable”. To weep tears of frustration about them may be to take our first real steps toward honesty, toward mental health, toward a life that is worth living.”
We know Jesus did not just sit around weeping all day long. As with Jesus, so with us; God took that pain, that compassion he felt in the deepest part of his being, and turned it into action. “Now go,” God would tell him, “do something for those you weep for”.
He longs to tell us the same thing if we can get over ourselves. If we can see clearly the suffering all around us that breaks God’s heart, the next hurdle is being accountable. It’s way too easy to shirk our responsibility. To just bring Christ into this battle for the soul of America with whatever excuse happens to work at the moment.
Lately, we seem so overwhelmed by the reality of the pain and suffering in our midst that we have either become numb to it or shake our fists in anger. We don’t feel like we have the power to address the massive needs of others, even if we want to. And truth be told, we don’t. So we shrug our shoulders, retreat into our little bubbles, and utter some feeble justification for not “getting involved”.
But we’re definitely not weepers – that’s a weakness we are not willing to put out there. If suffering humanity is lucky, Jesus just blew that myth to shreds for you! Fine. He doesn’t blow things up. But, you get it. Right?
And don’t worry, I’m not going to spew some moral edict to try to guilt anyone out of being a self-serving, self-absorbed jerk. This isn’t about taking on a rule-following, righteous, high and mighty stance. That would amount to the lowest common denominator required for entry into “heaven” at some later date. Is that what you want out of life?
So, let’s reconsider the gift of weeping that Jesus modeled, now seemingly lost as a Christian response to hatred and suffering. Not only should we weep for the state of our nation and the wrongs done to others, but we also need to realize that Jesus isn’t your personal fixer of all things that suck. That is not his job.
I think Rami Shapiro in his powerful book, “Holy Rascals”, gives us the most powerful definition of people of true faith that I have ever read:
“Holy Rascals have only one aim: to pull the curtain back on parochial religion in order to liberate people from the Great and Terrible Wizards who use religion to frighten them in to submission and to manipulate them into doing evil under the banner of good.
We are not anti-religion: we are anti-unhealthy religion: religion that promotes a world of “us against them” and sanctions the exploitation, oppression, and even murder of “them” in this world and the torture of “them” in the next.
We are not anti-belief; we are anti-irrational belief: belief that substitutes ancient fiction for modern science.
We are not anti-God; we are anti-mad Gods: Gods who sanction the lust for power that rules those who invented them.”
What saddens me more than anything today is the fact that there is such contention and visceral hatred among those who profess to be “Christians”. But, the louder they are the less like Jesus they are which is clearly an oxymoron: “Christians” who hate, “Christians” who seek power and prestige, “Christians” who have no empathy or compassion for others. Jesus was the Suffering Servant not the King of the elitists. “This is my commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s it.
We are so far removed from the Jesus known to his disciples. When the Church turned him into “Jesus Christ Superstar”he got lost in the power struggle for whose faith was the true faith. I would say many Christians probably have no idea that it was the Church struggling for power that created the Jesus so many “worship” today. And there’s the rub I think. Jesus never told us to worship him. He said, “Follow me”. When Jesus said, “Pick up your cross kid and follow me.” What do you think he meant? Pick up your bucket and shovel we’re headed to the beach?
Jesus lived and moved and had his being on the fringes of society. He was a revolutionary; a rebel, an outsider among the powerful leaders of his time. Why? Because he loved without regard for position or status or how it looked to others. He loved “the least of these” with abandon. He touched and healed and served the broken – the outcast. And they responded in love; a love that blurred distinctions between us and them, rich and poor, powerful and weak, saint and sinner. Does that sound anything like what is preached on street corners and in some churches today? Or the hatred spewed by “White Supremacists”? They have tried to remake Jesus into someone who would be unrecognizable to his followers and they have been given a thumbs-up by a president who, at the same time, secretly makes fun of them. It is frightening to watch.
Trillia Newbell, an author and Christian commentator, says: “I want to hear that we’re mourning and weeping, that we are active in our community, that we are going to work to love our neighbor as ourselves, that racism and any kind of hate is evil.”
I want to share one final, uncomfortable, not proud of this, Linda-you-suck-at-caring-but-it-will-get-easier story about two women I met in Belfast in 2005. Both taught me about what compassion looks like up close and personal.
Not long after we got there, I was walking to the post office before work. I was in a hurry. Several blocks ahead of me, I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk. I watched people walk right past her without giving her a thought. Here’s the awful truth, I did the same thing. I needed to get to work; I wasn’t from there and wouldn’t know what to do, and…and…and. I didn’t get far when I heard that still small (annoying) voice — “Go back”. Just two words that felt like a gut punch. So, I turned around. Fearful now that she might be dead, and then how would I feel? “Okay, Lord, this was your big idea. Please tell me what to do.”
I set my things down and sat next to her. It was clear she was drunk. I had to nudge her several times before she responded. She looked irritated at me but sat up. I tried to find out her name and where she lived, but all she said was, “Leave me alone. I’m not worth it.” To this day, I can hear her say those words that pierced my heart. I held her dirty, make-up-streaked face and told her she was worth it because she was a child of God. She said again, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m not worth it!” I told her, “I am looking at you and what I see is someone God loves deeply!” Through tears, I tried to get her up, put her in a cab, and take her to get something to eat. Just then, a mission van pulled up. A guy got out and addressed her by name. He gently helped her up and walked her to the van. I never saw her again.
My second experience wasn’t quite so involved but was equally as dramatic. Again, I was walking down the street and saw a woman with a little boy about five or six walking toward me. He said something that angered her, and she slapped him, which shocked me. Again, I summoned that voice within, a bit more willing to cooperate. “Okay, Lord, what do I do here?” When I got to her, I simply asked if she wanted to talk. She walked around me and kept going. The little boy turned around and stuck his tongue out at me. Alrighty then. Yeah me!
Encountering those two women for just one moment in time literally changed the trajectory of my life! Seeing the humanity of others should teach us compassion. By allowing ourselves to see Jesus in everyone we encounter, we will grow in love for those we usually disregard or, worse, reject outright. Seeing beyond the degenerate, the depraved, the lost, and the broken takes courage, humility, and trust in a God who shows us the beauty in others — and BONUS — in ourselves.
So, there you have it, you macho guys guzzling beer and feeling a bit queasy watching Jesus weep for those who suffer. How do you respond to that? You first need to offer a resounding “YES” to whatever Jesus has in mind for you. That’s it. Easy enough. Right?
Then fasten your seatbelt, brother; this is when the rubber meets the road because God has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), and this probably won’t be an “I’ll get back to you next week” moment either. There’s much to do, and you’re running out of time because you sat on your duff in that bar so long trying to get out of it. Just pray and stay open to your calling. You’ll know it. Then, brave heart, this is your moment! GO!
Wait…maybe lose the war paint. You don’t want to scare the crap out of people. They have enough to deal with.
It may seem crazy to imagine Satan having any defining joy in his life. Seriously! Does he countdown days to special holidays? Review photos of favorite vacations with the family? Post pics of him and his buds at a hockey game? Laugh hysterically at anything remotely comical?!
Well…there is one thing – and only one thing – that does get him all giddy in the midst of his miserableness, and we stupid humans seem to love indulging him. It happens when we judge others and refuse to forgive. That is what Satan thrives on, and we seem so eager to comply, even those of us who profess to be Christians. I would go so far as to say “especially” Christians, get sucked into that ego-driven sense of superiority over others. To be honest, I have to confess that I am just as guilty, though I’d like to believe I’m better than I used to be. I suppose it depends on who you ask.
Nearly twenty years ago, I thought the “revelation” that came to me about forgiveness when I was in Kentucky (which I wrote about in my book) was my most profound life-changing moment ever! Until it wasn’t. Even though I came away from that experience proclaiming the magical, mystical healing power of God!
Oh, for sure, I played the game. The “I’m fine. Great actually. No, really! I’m totally healed of all my past shit” game! The game God reveals when, for a split second, I get out of his way. That moment when I let my guard down and leave just a crack in the door of my hardened heart and he shoves his foot in before I can slam it shut again. I hate when that happens!
Recently, I was confronted again by the call of God to forgive. The two people that caused me the most suffering and hurt – my mother, and the relative I have never named publicly, have both passed away. The funeral services were unremarkable and sparsely attended. The realization of that struck me profoundly! Two people that caused me so much hurt, I believe now, suffered more than I did. I never considered that possibility.
I was given the gift of grace when I was able to see the brokenness of their lives and truly feel empathy for them. Yes, they both made messes in my life, but I have also experienced healing, and as a result, have, for the most part, lived a rich and fulfilled life.
I have been blessed with a loving family and friends and have so much to be thankful for. Most importantly, a God who never gives up on me, never keeps count of my sinfulness, and loves me unconditionally often in spite of my foolishness and forgetfulness of his mercy and love. The profound truth of God’s love gets so lost when we prefer to live on the periphery where it is safer and Satan tries his best to keep us there.
A life of faith has always been about transformation; our dying to self and being renewed. It takes place when we step outside our theology of reward and punishment; when we decide we are bone-tired of suffering and causing the suffering of others. It happens when we step into the terror as well as the awesomeness of being human. In that place, God does his best work and can awaken the creation of something new within us. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Father Richard Rohr tells us, “For many of us, suffering is a cycle. We go back and forth, holding on and letting go, healing, hurting anew, and healing again. Suffering, of course, can lead us in either of two directions: (1) it can make us very bitter and cause us to shut down, or (2) it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open, because our hearts have been softened.
We’re not perfect. The project of learning how to love—which is our only life project—is quite simply learning to accept this….If you really love anybody then you have learned to accept a person despite, and sometimes even because of, their faults.
Also consider these thoughts of Desmond Tutu on what he calls, “Essential Humility”, “We are able to forgive because we are able to recognize our shared humanity. We are able to recognize that we are all fragile, vulnerable, flawed human beings capable of thoughtlessness and cruelty. We also recognize that no one is born evil and that we are all more than the worst thing we have done in our lives. A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more.“
For three years, Jesus walked with and taught his disciples. He dared to love those cast aside by society. He healed the sick, turned unbelieving hearts toward God, and challenged those who believed they held the ultimate power.
The problem was that his disciples wanted to follow him on their terms. But, time and again, they failed. Why? Their desire to change was ever frustrated by their inability to know God as Jesus knew him. Their frame of reference for God’s love was within the realm of deserving and undeserving. It was something they could control through their actions.
In Jesus’ Passion and death, they witnessed his total self-giving to his Father. So likewise, God revealed his radically gratuitous love for his Son, the disciples, and us through the resurrection. Though that love is given freely, it calls for a response from us. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why we, like the Israelites, settle at the foot of the mountain in a comfortable, risk-free faith. “Nuh-uh, I ain’t goin’ up there!”
Before Jesus’ crucifixion, all of his wishy-washy disciples ran away in fear of meeting the same fate. (Just a little reminder here: the women stayed! You know that, right? Power to the women!) Anyway, the manly men finally came out of hiding and ran headlong into Jesus transfigured. There was now no denying that what they witnessed they were compelled to share with a lost and hurting world. That reality released within them an unshakable love beyond their human capacity.
Can we possibly grasp the implications of that love in our own lives? We zealously take care of “number one” in a world laden with mistrust and fear. How does that correlate with the fact that we were made in the image of God? It doesn’t.
As Christians, we too, were created anew by the resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit. That is Good News! And we have a mandate to take that Good News into the world. If fear holds us back, it is grounded in the denial of who we are. God’s sacrificial love is meant for all, and I am to be an instrument of that love, or my faith response is inadequate.
Confession time. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an “instrument” of God’s love on my own terms, just like the disciples, and I blew it – big time – just like they did! But I’m still breathing, so I still have time for a course correction. Sooooo, let me get all my “stuff” out there now and pray for that clean slate God is so good at freely offering us. You might want to fasten your seatbelt!
You see, I always felt the need for certitude about something, anything, in my messed up, confused, and broken life, but I wasn’t sure about trusting that to God. I mean, up to that point, he didn’t seem to pay any mind to me or my trials. So, I was convinced I was screaming into an echo chamber when I complained about the raw deal life handed me. It sucked for real! So, I went about creating a new and different me, and it seemed to work just fine – on the outside – for a while.
After my husband and I were married, I became a card-carrying member of the Catholic Church. Then with a cross around my neck and a big fish on the bumper of my car, I sat and waited for the angels to break out in song. It never happened. I never got so much as a thumbs up or atta girl.
For several years after my official dunking, I still lived in a state of doubt, always questioning the very essence of my faith. I read the Bible from front to back even though my eyes glazed over, trying to wrestle with the Old Testament. Still, I came away from that experience believing I now knew everything about everything God, Jesus, Spirit, and leprechauns (Okay, not leprechauns, I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention), but God, Jesus, and Spirit, yes!
I was also good at making you look bad to make me look better. I could easily admonish you for all your faults and failures without skipping a beat. I could even quote scripture verses to shore up my convictions. “Oh yeah, you think you’re a shoo-in for heaven? Well, I’ve got news for you – you’re screwed. Matthew says so, ‘For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few – very few – almost no one!’” (Matt. 7:13–14). I hate to tell you (NOT!), but this is not your lucky day, and tomorrow ain’t lookin’ too good either if you don’t change your ways! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re welcome!
Jesus side-eyed me for my attitude more times than I care to admit!
Then, one fine day in 2006, I was accepted into a graduate program at Aquinas Institute of Theology! Yeah, surprised the hell out of me too! Now, I thought I would have even more ammunition in my arsenal to judge and condemn others while promoting myself. Sweet! I have shared my experiences at Aquinas in previous posts. So, let me just say that, like Paul, I was knocked off my high horse and taken to task because of an arrogant assessment of myself. It was not pretty.
Since I am very stubborn and hard-headed (duh), my transformation was is, very slow. Truth be told, I muddled along for several years after graduation trying to sustain my convictions. After all, who would I be if not this person I created to shore up my sense of self, albeit a very fragile and false self?
So I trudged along searching – for what? I didn’t know. Longing for something out there that could give my life meaning. I tried desperately to fill the void. I left the Catholic Church in frustration and wandered into other Christian churches. Some sent me running out the door with my hair on fire! Why was I struggling to find a faith with the correct beliefs that spoke to me? For a moment, I considered communing alone with nature! Then I saw St. John the Baptist running naked in the woods, eating bugs and swatting mosquitoes! No thanks.
And then – my glorious and long overdue AHA moment arrived at my doorstep unannounced. In my search for a belief system that I could buy into, I suddenly realized what I was actually longing for. At that moment, experience and dogma clashed head-on, and I understood that I wasn’t searching for correct beliefs. That has never been what drew me to God. The experiences along the way showed me God’s love beyond anything I had ever known. It just took this long to accept that God could love me like that. Experiencing God in relationship, not knowledge of God, wells up within the very depth of our hearts – where he resides. I was finally home within my very being – where my deepest longing and hunger reside.
I could beat myself up for all the years I wasted wanting faith on my terms, but God has spoken tenderly into my brokenness and heartache. That voice was not a voice of condemnation that I was taught to believe was God’s. It’s not helpful that we are reminded every Lenten season that he had his beloved Son killed because of our wretchedness. NO! I believe Jesus was killed by a power structure that feared him. He lived a life that he had to know would get him killed, but he did it anyway out of a self-giving love at the core of his being.
I now trust that the God I long to surrender to also longs for me. The God who knew his Son would suffer terribly and die showed us his unwavering love and mercy, compassion, and forgiveness in the person of Jesus. John 15:12-13 tells us: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Seeing Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the context of John’s gospel of love has cast a new and beautiful light on what I now see when he says, “I am the way”. His life and love show me that if I follow in his way, I will be living my purpose: to love unconditionally, serve where I am called, and offer freely the same forgiveness and mercy God has shown me.
The Easter question for us becomes, “What do you believe about me?” What I say I believe must manifest itself in the way I live my life, or it is a lie.