I have often struggled with the idea of Lent. I think this is because, historically, Lent was a time when you couldn’t sing happy songs, when you couldn’t eat tasty foods and when you couldn’t wear bright colors. All of this was because you were meant to be participating in the sorrowful sufferings of Christ…so how could you possibly sing or eat or dress in joy? You were meant to be in mourning.

But my experience of faith is that things are not so hard-and-fast. In a time of mourning you may find yourself smiling or laughing. In a time of despair you may find yourself giving hope to another. In a time of brokenness you may experience healing. Life is kind of messy and emotions don’t stay in neat little boxes. Nor does God allow us to experience only one emotion at a time. God made us more complex than that.

So while I appreciate the idea of taking a season to remember all that Jesus has done for us and all that it cost Him to do it, I find it very difficult to impose what sometimes feel like false restrictions in order to do that remembering. Because that isn’t true to the beautiful, messed up, paradoxical life each of us is living.

For me, this winter has been brutal. I have struggled with illness after illness and while none of these illnesses were debilitating in the long run (it’s been two stomach flus bookending a wicked boomerang cold that came back just when it felt like it was on its way out), they have knocked the stuffing outta me and taken some precious time away from me. That’s been tough. I’ve shed more than one tear over that this winter.

At the same time, there are some very exciting things happening at St. Andrew’s, Brampton, where I serve as Associate minister. Our G.R.A.C.E. Group network is coming along, we are making strides forward. You see? Even in a time of struggle, God is at work, birthing something new and beautiful in our midst.

This passage from Hebrews reminds me of this “life doesn’t fit into neat little boxes” theory of mine:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Hebrews 12:1, 2 NLT

Because of joy, Jesus disregarded the shame of the cross. Because of joy, Jesus went willingly to lay down his life for us. Because of joy – and shame and suffering, and death and new life – we know what it is to walk through this life as a beloved, cherished child of God, never alone.

I am thankful, even in a time of struggle or a time of mourning or a time of remembering suffering, for the fact that God made us complex enough to experience more than one emotion at a time. I am thankful that on the cross, joy and sorrow meet. I am thankful for the new things God is doing in our midst.

On suffering…

Probably one of the biggest struggles In a life of faith has to do with why God allows suffering. Some ask the question this way: why do bad things happen to good people?

This year at Catalyst, Matt Chandler took this subject on. It is a powerful thing to hear a man who has battled brain cancer speak on suffering. He knows of what he speaks.

One of the theories – that doesn’t solve the problem of suffering, but at least gives an understanding of the role of suffering in the life of faith – is that God uses our suffering to teach us what we could not otherwise learn. It is through that lens that Matt Chandler spoke.

He said, “It is not unloving of God to wound you now so that you might have eternity with him. It IS unloving of God to save you from pain now and allow you to spend eternity apart from him.”

If what is at stake is eternity spent with God, then suffering becomes less of a horror. I would rather walk through the valley now and know that I am a citizen of Heaven, and when I die eternity in the presence of a loving God awaits me, than avoid suffering now and lose out on eternity with God.

Matt Chandler also said this: “God is going to do surgery to cut out some of what is killing us that we don’t even know is killing us…Jesus does not drive an ambulance, he is not going to show up when it is already too late.”

I found this profoundly comforting.

So let me leave you with this quote from the Apostle Paul, who knew a little bit about suffering:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Romans 8:18