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 of New Orleans. 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 who asks.
This time I said, “I’m a minister. I help women who want a deeper connection with God, and who long to discern his presence in their lives. Women have so much that weighs heavy on their souls, don’t they? I’m going to North Carolina to speak at a 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. For 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 decent dad? She was concerned for her teenage 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’s too much for you, but it’s not too much for God. Only He is able to create a clean heart – a renewed and right spirit – within you.
Lent brings God’s people out of their trouble in a way that makes absolutely no sense to an enlightened mind. Trying R E A L L Y H A R D and depriving ourselves for a short season is an idea most Americans can get behind especially if there is a tangible reward for our burst of self-discipline.
But forty days of taking off our fig leaves before God? Forty days of removing the precious things, even the good things, that cover our nakedness? 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 that we imagine will bring us more life – a fuller 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 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 and shows how things really are under all the layers of how we wish they would be.
“What are you clinging to?” Lent asks. “Your rights? Your past? Your independence? Your position? Your way?” Now is the time to take a good look at what you’re unwilling to give up.
“What is it that you think you deserve at this stage in your life?” Lent prods. “Respect? Clarity? Purpose? Security?” Lent insists that it is exactly this thing that you bring to the table this season.
Some of us are gripping an identity too tightly. Is your primary 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, and that He is committed to them in every good way?
Some of us are holding a grudge so very tightly and feel justified in our holy self-righteousness. Do you believe that with God’s help you can finally forgive? Bring it to the table this Lent.
Bring your blame, bitterness, and craving for control. Give up your defensiveness. Bring your expectations that others consider you first and foremost in all their decisions. Bring your comparisons and envy. Give up your agenda. Give up loving people with strings attached.
Bring your most precious sins to the table, and then look at the cross.
Look at the cross until your pride melts.
Can you see Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane considering what is to come? In only a few hours he will stretch out his arms on the hard wood of a cross and give up every right due him as the King of Heaven and Son of God.
Christ didn’t suffer and die to manage our sin. No, he came to destroy it! Will he not help us put to death our most precious sins? Will he leave us alone in our trouble? Will he not cover us with his manifold mercy and loving-kindness when we draw near in humble faith?
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 and love of heaven – life for your soul.
Shalom to you and yours this Lent as you look at the cross.