Five seconds into the fifty-minute flight from Austin to Dallas, I was in a lively conversation with the woman sitting next to me. Warm and good-natured, she laughed easily, and was looking forward to connecting with long-time friends for a fun weekend in the French Quarter. I couldn’t have liked her one bit more. After a string of spirited stories she paused and looked at me hard. “What do you do, Kim?”
I’m never sure until the actual moment how I will answer this question with each person that asks. This time I said: “One of my roles is that of a Spiritual Director at All Saints Austin. I help people who want to see God more clearly and discern his presence in their lives. Women have so much that weighs heavy on their souls, don’t they? I’m heading to North Carolina to speak at a women’s retreat.” We laughed in outdoor voices about how different our weekends would probably be. And then, although I hadn’t thought it possible, I liked her even more.
Without sounding like a victim, and with a great deal of vulnerability, she unburdened her soul. She had very real doubts about a God that would let both her parents die of cancer before she was eight. Did I know that the church wouldn’t let her take communion? Because after fifteen years she had finally divorced a man with zero interest in being a faithful husband or a decent dad? She was concerned for her son. Is it normal that he be so distant at this age? It broke her heart that he wouldn’t talk to her anymore. Would I pray for him? Would I pray for her?
What can we do with all our soul trouble? Where can we take it?
The season of Lent says to God’s people: “Bring it.” Bring your dry bones, your numb hearts, and your wrecked and weary souls. Bring your shame and the sin that you can’t shake. Yes, it is too much for you, but it is not too much for God. Only He can create a clean heart and a renewed spirit within you.
Lent brings God’s people out of their trouble in a way that makes absolutely no sense.
Trying really hard for forty days makes sense to us high functioning, goal-oriented people. Cleaning up the exterior and sorting ourselves out for a short season is something most religious individuals can gear up for; they can see the benefit. But, bringing absolutely nothing to the table but our man-made idols and filthy rags makes no sense at all! Who in their right mind would ever want to do that?
That is correct. Not one person.
Which is why, in the wisdom of the historic Christian church, there is a set-apart time of the year to be especially vulnerable, honest, and not play the victim. Lent is a communal call to God’s people to bring all the created things (even the good things) that we imagine will bring us more and better life, and renounce them.
Our worship of God’s gifts, instead of God himself; this is our trouble.
What is your soul trouble, then? Where do things feel dark, dry, and all uphill? Where is there no light at the end of the tunnel? Where are you stuck? With whom are you especially harsh? Who will not get your prayers?
Lent illuminates God’s people. It shows how things really are under all the layers of how we wish it things would be. What good things do you keep bringing to God in hopes that he will accept you? What sin do you justify in hopes that you can accept you?
What do you cling to? Control, maybe? Your rights? Your independence? Your way? Now is the time to take a good look at what you are unwilling to change. What is it that you think you deserve at this stage in your life? Respect? Answers? Clarity? Purpose? Security? Lent insists that it is precisely this – this thing that you crave more than anything else – that you must bring to the table this season.
Some of us are gripping an identity too tightly. Is your first identity that you are marked as Christ’s own? Some of us are grasping our children too tightly. Do you believe that the LORD holds them in his hands; that He is committed to them in every good way? Some of us a holding a grudge so very tightly, and feel justified in our self-righteousness. Do you believe that with God’s help you can forgive?
Bring it to the table, today. Give it up. Give up your blame, bitterness, and craving for control. Give up your defensiveness. Give up your expectations that others consider you first and foremost in all their decisions. Give up your comparisons and envy. Give up your agenda. Give up loving your people with strings attached. And look at the cross.
Look at the cross until your pride melts.
Can you see the Son of Man in the garden of Gethsemane as he considers what is to come? He is going to give up every right as the Son of God and cling to nothing but the will of his father. Christ didn’t suffer and die to manage our sin, he came to destroy it! Will he not help you conquer your sin? Will he leave you alone in your trouble?
The body of Jesus was broken for you: He is the bread of heaven, food for your soul.
The blood of Jesus was poured out for you: He is the wine of heaven, joy for your soul.
The Spirit of Jesus lives in you: He is the Light of heaven, life for your soul.
Peace to you as you trust in his everlasting care for you (and your people) this Lent.
*photo found @ treasure-trove.flickr.com