Lent as Listening (Week 2)

He spoke about suffering. Putting aside the theological debates surrounding the “problem of pain,” “why bad things happen to good people,” and “sovereignty,” to speak about the One who knows suffering intimately. He knew that those who were not yet acquainted with grief wouldn’t understand the message. He spoke from his heart.

There will always be individuals who never really know grief, choosing to quote it away with religious platitudes, or push it deep under the surface where it can’t be revealed, felt, or understood. A “new creation” means the past is over. Deal with it. 

Jesus gardenI held back the tears as I listened to his words. I know the place he spoke from, not just from my story, but from the thousands of others whose pain I now share. Afterwards I spoke to another minister of the Good News, whose kindness and remembrance of me touched my heart. Later, I shared with him and his wife the deep healing I have experienced in the past year, admitting I had almost given up believing I would be completely free of symptoms of PTSD. Free from anger. Free to love.

Healed.

I left for the first time in three years thinking perhaps I was finding a home in this community, as I have found my home rooted firmly in the unconditional love of Christ. Finally settled in a church with people who dare to love deeply, and are learning to risk wildly; and in Christian community of fellow ministers I can connect with under the cross of Christ. People who listen to the story of pain and redemption woven deeply into the lives of others; fragile humanity who endeavors to feel the souls of those they meet.  People who understand that relationships take work – in truth.

Listening people. 

Last week I spoke to one of my daughters who shared about an important relationship – a future relative – who doesn’t care to listen to her when she speaks. If she begins to share who she is, desiring to develop a relationship based on truth, the other person immediately preaches, lectures, and attempts to convince her of her need to change her thinking, and the error of her ways. She no longer tries to have a relationship with this person, settling instead for superficiality and shallow, non-redemptive words.

I mentioned that people react this way from their own defenses, out of their own pain and fear. I apologized for behaving this way myself during her childhood. Mostly I listened. Why is it more important for the church in this country to do – to speak, rather than to be. Why are we as Christ followers as competitive as the world we live in? Do we hear His words to be in the world but not of it?

 People are more interested in defending their beliefs than listening to another’s pain. 

jesus washing feetJesus humbly washed the feet of the ones He loved, even to the one who would betray Him to death. Perhaps when someone opens their mouth to speak, we need to pick up the towel and bowl as He did and humble ourselves by listening.

If we listen to the story of another – their beliefs, their pain – we have to admit that some things in the cosmos simply don’t make sense. Maybe we don’t have all the answers. Maybe God is slightly bigger than our understanding of temporal things. We have to acknowledge that if bad things can happen to them, then perhaps they could happen to us. We have to accept that what is theoretical in our lives could very well become experiential. It requires humility to embrace the opinion of another, rather than  defend the truth we think we know.

We need to be attentive in listening, learning, and finding the Sacred in the lives of others, rather than focusing on theological differences.

There is no greater story in a person’s life than the one that rings of redemption. Without the suffering of Christ, we would not have been redeemed by Him. If we were to sit at His feet right now, would we be more interested in speaking to Him about the reasons for His suffering, or which of our beliefs held the most theological truth? Would it really matter if our lives had been played as chess pieces or as a result of our own choices? Or would we lean into His suffering and embrace Him, experiencing the pain, joy, and redemption that we hold common?

As I approached my home last night I began to weep uncontrollably. I sat in my car in the driveway, and for a moment I was taken back to the trauma of my son’s death, the brutality of pain, and the wounds of my soul. I leaned deeply into the grief as I leaned deeply into Christ. I felt the warmth of His blood as it poured down and covered me. I experienced the embrace of  His resurrected joy. I no longer ask Him why.

It no longer matters.

Just as Peter taught in last night’s message, it wasn’t my theology that held me in that moment of pain – it was the presence of Christ and His wounds. We have been given an opportunity to hold others in their pain as we listen and bow before the One who makes all wounds equal.

May God help us to be better listeners this Lenten season as our own healing pours forth as a balm upon others.

It is by His wounds we are made whole.

 

Lent as Unifying

When I saw them standing upfront in their robes, placing the sign of the cross with ashes upon the foreheads of those kneeling before them, I was transported back thirty-five years to my last Ash Wednesday service as a practicing Catholic. Evangelicals aren’t known for celebrating the season of Lent, yet in recent years there has been an increase in Lenten practices. There seems to be a few reasons for this, but many people attest to finding the need for some tradition in a country that is global, instant, and quickly losing touch with the past.

lent-purpleLent is meant to mirror the season of Passover and the 40 days are representative of the time that Jesus spent in the Wilderness, and Moses in the desert. It expands 46 days with Sundays padded in as feast days, when individuals can rest from their weekly fast.

At this past Wednesday’s service I was accompanied by Dave, who having been raised in a Baptist home had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service.  The service we attended was a uniting of the local Ecumenical clergy, as well as my own faith tradition and some other “evangelicals” all part of this pastors group I have embraced.

Some noted theologians are against the idea of evangelicals embracing aspects of Catholicism, stating that it is a smorgasbord of pick and choose  liberality, i.e. celebrate Lent, throw out infant baptism, celebrate Ash Wednesday, throw out transubstantiation. With a critical eye, I can understand this kind of thinking and yet, I believe this is more as a point of commonality rather than opposition. I believe this can enhance the evangelicals thinking about what they are picking and choosing and open up the possibilities of different doctrines as just that – doctrines – not the identifying basis for a fellowship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

For David, his first Ash Wednesday was both “educational” and put him in touch with “church history.” He felt connected to the Universal Church in knowing that roughly a minimum of 1.5 billion worldwide would also take the sign of the cross on their foreheads to be reminded that it is from dust we have come, and to dust we will return. As for me, I was put back in touch with the God of my youth, who was not so different from the God I now worship – except now I have a richness of history and a deeper relationship based on knowledge and understanding that was lacking in my past.

I for one am very glad that I am being reunited with a theological, liturgical, and historical depth to my Christian faith in unity with others who are revering Jesus as Lord of Lord and King of Kings.

This seems like another opportunity to remember the words of Christ in Mark 9:39-41,

“But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”

They will know us by our love. David and I are both looking forward to this Wednesday’s Lenten service with anticipation.
 

Valentine Hope; Broken Hearts Made Whole

The other day I was actively listening in a conversation with a woman who referred to a happily married couple as, “… so deeply in love, they never fought…” As I was offering support at the time, I tucked the comment away in the back of my mind.

Valentine’s Day is all about happy, romantic, perfect love, right?

valentine 2Dave and I celebrated thirty-two years of marriage yesterday, February 14, 2015, “Valentine’s Day.” This past New Year’s Eve, we celebrated thirty-four years of being together. Thirty-four years is a pretty long time. We are both in our mid-fifties – I have officially spent more of my life with Dave, than without him. I know my life with him, and can’t imagine it without him.

Not because we have had a peaceful, perfect, never fought kind of life, but because we are so intertwined; it is actually quite the opposite. We have been to hell and back several times – often pulling the other along behind us, and at times pushing each other up front.

More often than not, we have regained our directional compass and attempted to shield each other from the flames.

We have fought our way through our share of tough times. Always in love, always friends, and always holding onto our faith in God and each other, we have walked through dark and painful years, loving each other fiercely, and fighting each other passionately. We have momentarily questioned if we had what it takes to make it through to the other side of the chasm of pain and find lasting joy in each other again. We wavered in our faith that God was enough; that our love was enough.

When we first met, I was a young, single, mom, in the middle of a divorce. He was just one of those truly kind guys that represented the Law of the Prophets he had been raised with, even though he wasn’t embracing his Christian heritage at that time.

valentine 3He was moved with compassion for my daughter and me. He helped us when we needed it, and I feel madly in love. (He will also say, “there was something about your dark hair, big brown eyes, big smile and your  personality that made me fall in love with you.”)

I thought he was a god, my knight in shining armor come to save me from a loveless life. For the first seven years we were married, we never fought. I adored him and did everyone in my power to make him happy. We were best friends and he took care of me and our children with everything he had.

During those first seven years we became Christians, in an extremely legalistic cult, and life began to change. There was no shortage of people to point out what the bible said about submission for wives, and spiritual leadership for men. Simply put – I was not submissive enough, and he was too respectful and kind. We started to feel the strain on our marriage as I struggled to become someone and something I was not, and my knight in shining armor wasn’t living up to the Patriarchal mold that was expected.

valentine 1Then we lost our son – not only did we face the loss of a child, but the traumatic death of a child. Anyone with knowledge of traumatic loss would understand the statistics for divorce surrounding the death of a child are extremely high. Add in a spiritually abusive cult, lack of support, PTSD, repressed grief, feelings of shame, guilt, and performance based spirituality…

It was a recipe for disaster in all of our relationships.

Yet, here we are thirty-four years later, more deeply in love than we have ever been, not in spite of the dark and broken times, but because of them. Holding hands in victory over the darkness. ValentineThe scriptures are filled with the sufferings of Christ as the means to make us more like Him. Human relationships are the very place where we are the most challenged to be conformed to His image. They are also the place we witness the unconditional love of Christ in a tangible human; in the places of touch, speak, smell, feel, be.

Relationships are where grace takes form, not just as a theological concept, but as a spiritual reality. God became flesh and dwelt among us to reveal the reality of grace. Marriage is the place we express unmerited favor towards a human as God daily expresses it towards us. Marriage is where we attach, and work out our own rejection, past wounds, and human frailties, by reflecting on who we are in the mirror of the one who owns half of our soul.

And before God who owns it all.

cropped-fall-views-saranac.jpgYesterday Dave and talked about the many sufferings we have endured together and if we regretted having experienced them. Though both of us acknowledge we wish that our children had not been hurt by our difficulties, we embrace the work of grace that God has performed in our lives and our marriage as a result. We no longer fight, we love more, we understand forgiveness.

We can say like Paul,

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”  Phil.3:8

Light always shines the most brightly in the darkness. We have witnessed the light of God in each other as we struggled through dark caverns; we have affirmed the light as we joined hands to navigate the tunnels. We have carried each other when the journey was too much for either of us to bear.IMG_1590 (3)The dark times are just a fading glimmer in comparison to the knowledge of Christ we have gained. Our marriage is a testimony of strength, enduring love, and the power of Christ. We come alongside others who are struggling not because we can say that we have always had a wonderful marriage, or had it all together, but because we can say, We feel your pain, we’ve been where you are. Don’t let go.”

Wounded healers wearing Valentine colors.

St. Valentine was a Catholic priest who disobeyed Roman law to marry couples in secret. Rome liked to have single soldiers or polygamists at that time believing they made better soldiers if they were not worried about a young wife at home. St. Valentine was eventually executed in a horrific three-part torture and execution.

Love that is forged in the fires of life becomes unbreakable iron. Two separate hearts can be attached together by string, or wood, or simple metal strapping and it will hold together as long as it is not tested – as long as it is not put under too much pressure; but intensity, burning, searing, crushing, breaking  – fuses us.

bio both black and whiteYes, we have fought – we have fought the fight of faith and we have won the battle. We are stronger. We are unbreakable. We are friends. We are lovers. We are soul mates.

We are one.

We are a chord of three strands.

We have discovered the depths of God’s love manifested in our lives.

Everything good in my life is because God gave me a soul mate to reflect His ways, to stand with me and be conformed, to love with my whole being.

“… for better for worse, for richer for poorer, till death we do part.”