I must write while the tears are still fresh. Although we seldom welcome them, tears can be sacred as, through them, our hearts are rent open, vulnerable and exposed to our God.
Reflecting recently on the experience of Lent, I recalled how through childhood and much of adulthood, I was called upon to give something up for the holy season. It might be a small denial of something I liked or it might be an effort to rid myself of a negative habit.
Also, especially as I got older, Lent became for me a time of more focused spiritual practice. I might take on some additional spiritual reading or attend liturgy or other religious programs more frequently for my benefit.
This year has been quite different.
It has not been about what I give up. It has been more about what has been taken from me.
There is, of course, the literal meaning in terms of the burglaries and what was stolen. But that started before Lent and the loss of a few material objects was, in itself, not such a great thing.
There has been another process going on, one that is hard to describe and perhaps even a bit too personal to write about. Yet it feels important to try.
It is as though layer after layer of what I thought I had has been taken away. Rationally, comparing it to the catastrophic losses that many people have endured, I know it doesn’t seem like much. But then another layer is taken and another…
I began the process being faithful. It’s OK. I can deal with this.
OK, some more happens. God is near. With God near, all will be well.
And then there is more. I look forward to the consolation of meeting with friends – and they cancel. And then a misunderstanding with another friend. And then another friend cancels. All legitimate and understandable, no harm intended.
Fatigue and eye strain take from me the ability to read the book I intend to read. Work and the distractions of repairing the house spill over into the time I thought might be there for church.
I keep talking to God and no longer feel Him close. I know He is here but I do not sense Him near me. How I want Him and long for Him. I pray that He breaks through and enters my stony heart.
And another friend cancels.
And then the dam breaks. I am alone. I cry and I cry and I cry.
I write while the tears are still fresh because I see that God has indeed answered my prayer. I needed to cry – not just a little eye-watering sniffle but deep sobs from the heart. It was the only way my heart would break open for Him.
It is His love that chastens me, that strips me down to nothing, so that I know that there is nowhere I can turn but to Him. It does not feel good. But I know it is good.
Like the prophet Jonah, I want to run from what is hard and what hurts. It is too scary, especially if I must do it alone. Let me go the other way and avoid all of that.
But I cannot go the other way. I can only go His way.
If I choose to give up something for Lent, there is no harm at all in that. But it is my will that I am following. When He takes from me, I am called to learn obedience and an ever-deepening trust.
He bids me to allow Him and Him alone to lead me – to have no will of my own. A priceless thing…
To Him be glory, for now and all eternity.