The following is a guest post by my wife Megan.
This year, I approached the Lenten season very differently than I have in the past. For the last 6 months my husband has been in and out of the hospital from intense chemotherapy and the day-to-day grind and “restrictions list” we have had to cope with seems like a grueling mile long survival guide.
When Ash Wednesday finally came about it was the day after his latest hospital stay and I was exhausted. As I contemplated Lent, all I wanted was a little comfort rather than accepting something else I would have to give up. You see, we have been living the “giving it all up” part a lot lately.
Over the course of this last year, we have lost a lot – a sort of dying – to the comforts and reassurances and general “things are going OK” feeling that life can sometimes have. I personally have had to face the reality that at the end of all of this it could mean losing everything I hold dear, everything I would consider “my life”. So, I have been forced to face the slow, reluctant, painful peeling off of each layer of life I thought I wanted and needed so very much and confront that raw and vulnerable place between just me and God.
I’m not going to lie it has been the most painful kind of giving up I have ever experienced, a kind of piercing to the soul; intentionally facing the person I really am and realizing I really can’t do this by myself. As I think over all the years I have tried to give something up during Lent, either as a success or a failure, at the center of it has always been the same thing: my willingness to admit “I can’t do this alone” and trusting God to intervene and walk with me as I struggled to deny myself in order to better follow Him.
As I approached Lent this season I came to a point of acceptance, an acceptance of the practice of a life of self-discipline and self-denial that I had slowly been faced with over the last few months. Instead of occupying my time and thoughts with just trying to make the best of circumstances and looking forward to a time when things “would get better” instead I accepted that some changes are final and some changes we have made will be what makes the rest of our lives God-centered – I accepted that there is “no going back”. With that, I was finally ready to give it all up and hand it over to God: all the pain, the loss, the fears, the worries, the hopes and dreams that I thought were important. (I admit it is a daily struggle and one I don’t think I will ever fully achieve, but I believe God will continue to help me as I struggle to accept his grace and love.) Finally, I resolved to replace anxiety with a willingness to follow God through any of the struggles life offers and accept a commitment to follow God and love God even through the times when all I feel is pain, hurt, and loss.
As I have struggled to live with the view of Christ and the Cross firmly affixed in my gaze, I have discovered the more and more I lay aside and accept God in place of my comforts (which is a constant difficulty) the more and more I have found an abundance of life. I still have the constant uncomfortable feeling gnawing away at me that keeps repeating “all is not well” and I believe that while alive in this broken world it is an ache that will never go away no matter the circumstances. But as God works through the specifics, my feelings have shifted to something more akin to the ache for the God I know and His fulness of glory realized in contrast with the hardships the world offers. The ache has become a passion to help, to heal, to love God and others as fully as I can and has become the fuel behind my actions here on Earth.
One of the biggest ways I have found comfort and peace has been fellowship with others. As I said before, I can’t do this alone and as I trust and walk with God, I am joined by others who are also struggling and self-denying themselves for the sake of Christ. A community of those who knows what it means to have died in Christ, who accept the reminder of ashes marked on their foreheads, who have also lost parts of their lives, and who also share the struggle of living in a world that we know is not our home. Lent is one of the most beautiful seasons to me because of this, it is the acceptance of our shared humanity, struggles in life, our fragility and death, and our faithful trust in God and our great hope that Christ has given us the ability to have everlasting, glorified, and abundant life.
Ultimately, Lent has become less of a gimmick to me lately and much more of a recognized and intentional way to live fully as a part of the Body of Christ. Lent gives us all the opportunity to orient ourselves towards God by personally and communally accepting those words spoken by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane “yet not my will, but thine, be done” and continue on as we weakly help carry that glorious cross in which bought our redemption.
So I rejoice as I walk through the season of Lent, as I hold my gaze firmly affixed on Christ and the Cross and rest assured that the Resurrection is final and is God’s promise to us that there is “no going back”.