As we near the halfway point in the Lenten season, I am learning more and more about the gift of being present in pain. For those of you experiencing long term pain or grief, this claim might make you want to throw a shoe at my face. Before you unlace, hear me out.
Life is not fair. We aren’t in charge and we can’t dictate the way our lives unfold. We can’t protect the people we love, and we can’t make sense of soul-crushing tragedy. Some of us live lives mostly shielded from these truths, while some of us can’t seem to escape the harsh realities of pain and suffering. When we suffer, some of us try to escape, while others simply hope to survive. We might try to shut our eyes, hoping it will go away. We might try to fight, kick, scream and rage, hoping our anger will replace our sorrow. We might try to distract ourselves, staying too busy to feel the hurt. We might try to focus on the good we hope will come out of it, attempting to soften the blows we currently endure by viewing our state from a far off place where we hope one day this will all make sense. Stripped down, these are all coping mechanisms, and while they can be effective, some pain is too big for coping. It is unmanageable. It is inescapable.
This Lent, I am realizing that when it becomes clear that escaping will not work, perhaps the best path forward is to simply face the hurt. Rather than using so much energy on complicated strategies of escape, I can bear witness to the disappointment threatening to consume me. I’m not suggesting it is a way out, but there is a calm that comes in observing my body and soul in suffering (or in joy). To stay in my own skin and be there for whatever comes, rather than trying to plan or produce or pray or project my way out of it.
In my own experience of God, there is a connecting holiness, an embodied solidarity, that comes when I decide to stay present in my pain instead of escaping. The Torah and the Bible speak of a God who is willing to wrestle with us, to cry with us, to listen to our lament. These Lenten readings are teaching me that God is just as present when I cry as God is when I refuse to let the tears come because I have Jedi mind-tricked my spirit into only hoping for good.
Cry. Or don’t. But don’t believe the lie that crying is unfaithful.
The one place I want to be when I am present in my pain is near God. Given the chance to introduce himself, God said, “I am.” That’s my best name. I am the present one. The always here one. The never past or future tense one. The ongoing in the moment one. To be near God is to be awake for this life, for these current moments: joyful and heartbreaking and everything in between.
May these readings be an invitation into presence, with yourself, with others, with the God of ‘I Am."‘
“But how sobering, that I can bring forth out of my thought-world into the external world either that which leads to life, or that which produces death in other men…we must understand that the reality of communion with God, and loving God, must take place in the inward self.” -Francis Shaeffer
“Joy is portable. Joy is a habit, and these days, it can be a radical act. Buffy Sainte-Marie said, ‘Keep your nose to the joy trail.’ So for now let’s define joy as a slightly giddy appreciation, an inquisitive stirring, as when you see the first crocuses, the earliest struggling, stunted emergence of color in late winter, cream or gold against the tans and browns.” -Anne Lamott
Mar 25 Ps 143:5-10
Mar 26 Ps 25:4-18; 19:7-14
Mar 27 Ps 103; 131
Mar 28 Isaiah 43:1-7
Mar 29 Ps 1:1-3; 23
Mar 30 Habb 3:17-19
Mar 31 Matthew 5:1-12
“The kind of peace shalom represents is active and engaged…Shalom is communal, holistic and tangible. There is no private or partial shalom. The whole community must have shalom or no one has shalom…Shalom is not for the many, while a few suffer; nor is it for the few while many suffer.” -Randy Woodley
“We never get to the bottom of ourselves on our own. We discover who we are face-to-face and side-by-side with others in work, love and learning.” -Robert Bellah
Apr 1 Ps 106:1-8
Apr 2 Eccles 3:1-8; Ps 13
Apr 3 Ps 101:1-6; 119:9-20
Apr 4 Micah 4:6-7; Luke 6:20-27
Apr 5 Ps 22:1-11; 24-31
Apr 6 Prov 3:1-12
Apr 7 Matthew 5:1-12
“Our call to faith in this present life is that we should live as though dead to all things, that we might be alive to God…God has always intended that Christians should be the evidence, the demonstration, of Christ’s victory on the cross.” -Francis Shaeffer
“We spend too much time trying to fix the things we don’t like rather than simply reconciling everything to God….But I’ve come to understand that true justice is wrapped up in love…God’s love and justice come together in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and we can’t be about one and not the other. They’re inextricably connected.” -John Perkins
Apr 8 Song of Sol 8:6-7; Isai 41:3-13
Apr 9 Ps 116:1-9; Ps 127:1-2
Apr 10 Ps 9:7-14; 17:6-11
Apr 11 Ps 3:1-5; 21:3
Apr 12 Micah 7:18-20
Apr 13 Ps 28:1-2; 40:1-11
Apr 14 Matthew 5:1-12
“Jesus is not some impossible horizon in the distance, far removed from the realm of possibility or your everyday life. He is very near. This is the nearness that union with Christ brings; you are in Christ and Christ is in you…Christ now set you free to be your true self: the self you are by grace, not the self you are by nature…Jesus came from heaven in order that the image of God might be restored in you.” -Rankin Wilbourne
“When we walk with God, all things become new.” -Mary Wineinger
Apr 15 Ps 102:1-4
Apr 16 Isaiah 54:1-8
Apr 17 Ps 18:25-36; 20
Apr 18 Isaiah 55:1-12
Apr 19 Ps 32:1-5; 38:1-11, 15-18
Apr 20 Isaiah 61:1-11
Apr 21 Matthew 5:1-12