Here we are in the season of Lent, a time when we walk with Jesus toward the cross. It is a season of seeing the vulnerability of Divine Love who clothes Himself with flesh so that He might enter fully into the messiness of humanity. It is a season of facing truthfully our own messy selves and our own messy lives and our own messy world. In all this messiness that is me, my heart has this constant sensation of being squeezed, like it’s in a vise-grip that shows no signs of relinquishment. There are no easy answers where I am. Just an ache, that might have a gift to give, if I let it.
When I was a child, faith came easily, it operated easily. I knew the good and could associate God with good and could believe that God would move according to the good I knew He was. But life has a way of showing us that there are Greater Good’s. There is the Goodness of God that leads us through times of suffering, not rescuing us quickly from pain, staying close by as our capacity for compassion is stretched. This is the Goodness of God that comes to us in difficulty, patiently Breathing with us, upon us, as God’s Goodness is birthed within us. This kind of birth, like all birthing, is costly. I believe the reward is worth it. Certainly my own children are worth every bit of birthing pain that brought them forth. Sometimes I wonder though at this other kind of birthing, this spiritual kind, where the only evidence that something amazing happened is a pierced-through understanding of shared suffering.
It is an uneasy, in-between transition. I think about my relatives in the Bible stories I learned early on. These forerunners of faith felt the ambiguity and lived within it, because really there was no other option. Like Jacob, who discovers that he has left the consequences of his deception of Esau only to find himself bound up in a costly deception he receives from Laban. Or John the Baptist, who sends word to Jesus from prison, asking if He is the one. I hear in the question the plaintive cry of abandonment, “if You are who You say You are, why am I here?” Then there is the bold-faced, and raw-hearted declaration by Mary of Bethany draped in mourning clothes, “If You had been here, my brother would not have died.” All of these are the faithful, the bearers of God’s Promise. And yet all of them stand in the place where their faith must stretch farther than the capacity of their hearts to reckon pain.
Asking the question, “how did I get here?” seems a waste of time. I’m here. I’m helpless to change it. I assume something I am or something I bring or something I do can dissolve the difficulty. But then I come face to face with the truth that there are some things in life that remain untouched by my ability to manipulate myself into something else so that the pain of the moment can be assuaged. I remember one time sitting in my car at a traffic light, realizing that God would not be moved by my pleading and begging. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why His No would not budge. But in that moment I decided to praise Him for the No He gave, because He saw fit to give it. Right now I am too afraid to lift my eyes heavenward, because I am afraid once again a No is all I’ll get. I don’t know if the No I fear is a product of my own self-doubt or truly Heaven’s response to my deep yearning. I can’t sit in this question any longer. I will leave it and ponder it another time.
Where I choose to plant my weary heart instead is the ground of Love and Compassion that encompasses me. If Divine Compassion is using this moment to grow Goodness and Compassion within me, then there also has to be a resounding Song of Compassion singing itself over me. I learn to sing the song for others by recognizing the notes spun on my own behalf. Oh the tenderness of God who stays up all night to wrestle with Jacob, never leaving the fight, and, just to reveal Himself, touches Jacob’s hip socket so he will know the truth: God never left him during all the deceitful nights he could not sleep through. And what sweet words of the Savior who speaks up for His cousin by saying, “Never has a greater man ever been born of woman.” Even when He cannot rescue him from the costliness of discipleship. And what I love even more is how Jesus doesn’t even use words when faced with the wide chasm of Mary’s trust and bewildered grief. He weeps with her.
I think to myself, “how can I even have any more tears left?” In seminary someone nicknamed me “Little Water Buckets.” I think if I cry enough of them the ache will go away. But it doesn’t. In fact the ache seems to be giving birth to a river. Again I remember another blessed moment with God, when Jesus seemed to whisper to my heart, “There are never too many tears for Me to wipe away.”
What does faith look like when there is no escape from an impossible situation? When all answers are silenced by the dense nature of impasse? Where every solution offered seems inadequate and too small? When I was a campus minister I would always tell my students to do the next right thing. My messiness gets in the way of the next right thing, making it hard to see exactly what is next and what is right. And even worse, my own messiness, my own heartache raging so big in my chest, has kept me distracted from the heartache of one of my beloveds. Instead of offering comfort and compassion, I sought it instead. How could I not see what would be obvious to anybody else? What should have been so apparent? How could I not offer the help within my power to give? How could I act as if my own suffering was somehow more, when really, it is not?
Faith keeps walking, even in steps broken by sin. I confess and move forward, praying God’s Grace and the Forgiveness that finds lost sheep is big enough to help the heartaches I can no longer encompass. Faith keeps me moving forward like Jacob, limping and a little less deceptive. Like John, accepting the answers I’ve been given instead of the ones I would give. Like Mary, who stays at the grave of death beside the Giver of Life, waiting.
This mess has gotten the best of me. But in Faith I believe I can still receive the best of Him.