Lent, Again.

It’s late in Lent 2019, and two Easters and another Lenten season have passed since I’ve last written here. To catch you up, I’m no longer living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now I call the Pacific Northwest home; a place that feeds my soul with its raw and untamed beauty.

Over the eighteen months I’ve lived here, my eldest child graduated from high school, my husband changed jobs (twice), my ministry has taken shape in wonderfully unexpected ways, and we added a new puppy, Gus, to our family. And that’s just a gloss.

Life is complicated to be sure, but grace dots the landscape no matter where I wander, a constant reminder of the no-strings-attached invitation to begin again. And I have begun again, and so I will do, over and over…and over again.

So here I am. It’s Lent, a whole season set aside to contemplate the unconditional invitation to begin again; a time to slow down a bit to confront the mysteries of this life and to plumb the depths of faith and doubt.

The wisdom of scripture marks the path…

First, I’m led to consider my temptation to be distracted by the illusion of my own control. Even if my heart knows better, I work really hard to impose my will on the situations of my life. I rely on my own understanding, trusting God less and stressing myself out more. Will my son be able to successfully navigate the transition to adulthood? Will my husband find meaning in his work? Will I find the courage to stay faithful to my call? The diablos in my head works hard to trick me into thinking that I can handle things on my own, but God calls me to trust God alone.

Then, I’m led to wonder why Jesus had to die so that I might live. Why would God whose name is love, ask Jesus to suffer on the cross? How can I fathom that act, when I don’t fully understand how it works or why it had to happen? After all, I love my son like God loves me and I can’t imagine such a sacrifice. Yet somehow, from the ashes of death and doubt, new possibilities emerge. This teaches me something about letting go in the name of love.

From there, I’m led to struggle with the question of why bad things happen to people just trying to live a good life. I agonize over why a little boy should die of cancer. Or why entire towns and villages are washed away by devastating floods leaving utter destruction and starving people in its wake. Or why black churches in the south are being burned to the ground at the hand of an arsonist, presumably compelled by hate. But the God who weeps, who suffers with us in the darkest hours, tells me that I see only dimly for now, and commands me to do justice by loving more fully.

 Farther afield, I’m led to ponder the grace of a father who lavishly welcomes home his son who’d gone astray. This father offered his wayward child a grand celebration even if it seems to us that his son didn’t deserve it, squandering his inheritance on dissolute living as he did. But this father knows something about redemption, about the joy of being lost and then found, and the absolute miracle of life born anew. The father’s example is a reminder of God’s lavish grace available to us, and something to aspire to.

Grace seems in short supply in this world, so when we experience it, it seems every bit as remarkable as the father’s reaction to his son’s return. Two weeks ago, I lost my cool in a heated argument with someone I care deeply about. Days passed and I was still dwelling on it. Then it occurred to me at a fast food drive through window, where I stopped to cheat on my Lenten fast by indulging in a large Diet Coke (I used a non-disposable straw, just for the record). The only way I could move on from this unfortunate situation is to offer grace to the offender and ask her to offer me the same: no more arguing, no more questions asked.

Then the line moved forward and I pulled ahead to the window where a friendly employee informed me that the person ahead of me in line had paid for my drink. Delight and guilt commingled in my gratitude. Did she know I was cheating on my Lenten fast? She likely didn’t, but it didn’t matter anyway. What did I do to deserve this kindness offered to me by a perfect stranger? Nothing at all. How could I ever repay her? I couldn’t. This was a perfect example of grace in action. The gesture itself was simple, but its impact was nothing short of transformational, because I drove away changed: feeling mysteriously and illogically loved, and inspired to love more fully, beyond the bounds of my human understanding.

And then there’s the story of two sisters, one of whom offers all she has in the form of expensive perfume in a moment of reverence to the author and embodiment of grace. And even then, people would criticize her for the extravagance of her gesture of thanksgiving. But Jesus, whose wisdom superseded any witness to this logic-defying act, assures us that she is doing the right thing. In response to grace, give everything you’ve got and know that not a drop is wasted.

Lent reminds me that in this life, though I may wander into dark and lonely places,I am not alone. I may suffer and witness the unbearable suffering of others, and wonder “Why God have you forsaken us?” but the earth will turn and the sun will rise, and the unanswerable question will fade into the motions of the new day. I will be tempted to take an easier route, but I can borrow strength in everlasting promises to stay the course…or to turn around when in inevitable moments of weakness I wander astray. In the words of a song, I will remember the transformative power of grace: “It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, But the welcome I receive at the restart” (Mumford & Sons). 

Grace and peace to you as we journey toward Easter.