Free To Love One Another or Afraid to be Free?

“if you loved me you’d let me die…”

I went with a reluctant, heavy expectation to the Maundy Thursday service. My child’s words ringing in my ears. 

My need was great.

It hit me, sitting there.  I was in the middle of the Community of God, but felt utterly alone.  And it was all my fault. For I have built up these mammoth walls around myself, so high that I sat there,

Alone, Weeping in the middle of the Community of Believers.  Some in the crowd of hundreds I know, though most were strangers, I had no idea where my friends were sitting.  I sat alone.

I fled as they began the Eucharist.  I was still in the pain of just moments ago, dealing again with the rivers of sorrow carved into my soul over the last year, it was all catching up with me.

How difficult it has been, and that raw emotion was sitting close, heavy, the madness of my child’s mental health situation, an invisible dagger in a wound that I walk around with these days.

Then suddenly Old Regrets began replaying, again and again in my head—my sin and guilt, my humiliation. I have made so many mistakes.

Even after almost five years of sobriety I still haven’t forgiven myself for becoming a drunk in the first place. I am

clearly not willing to receive the freedom of grace and forgiveness for being sober today. That would take a level of courage and humility that I don’t have, at least not yet.

I am clearly still unwilling to admit how little control I have over my life’s circumstances. Sitting there, facing the courageous, loving sacrifice of Jesus, I couldn’t bear it. I fled.

I sat down in the darkened hallway entrance in-between the lobby and the sanctuary  hiding from the Holy One, now I was really crying and embarrassed at my lack of composure.  When just as suddenly it occurred to me – Jesus experienced every human pain—even mine, even my child’s.  (And much much worse.)

And I cannot run from Jesus because no matter how far I flee, he’s there beside me in this moment of anguish.

I have learned.

Listening to your places of pain as a believer in Christ is both mystical and sacred—attending to the Soul’s Ache. It cultivates the depth of understanding that can only come when we slow down and feel.  Although last night I was running away, in general  lately, I’ve been listening hard, in good ways  … And what I hear, finally has been a discovery seen through my photographs …

for a long time I’ve been on the inside looking out at life.

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This has built up an inner turmoil that requires sorting and reconciling and answering this question: Where does all my fear come from?

I’m not petty but I get insecure,  Still, I feel sincere joy at others’ success, and friendships, and connections.

All my life, I have felt alone.

I just don’t think I deserve that sort of thing: a Community who is Free To Love One Another; it’s too beautiful, too holy, and too wonderful to experience the hospitality and community of people. It’s a blessing I’ve never felt worthy of, and I have my bag full of excuses and reasons: I’m too broken and useless, unwanted, undesirable, and therefore, I deserve to be alone.

Even here.  Even now in this Holy Place on Maundy Thursday with hundreds of people around.

And worst of all, I cannot sort out if I made this happen, this Place of Lonesomeness.  But I think I did.

Henri Nouwen expressed so often in his writing and often lamenting:

Even as we need solitude—I know I crave it, seek it, relish it, because it is where I listen for the Spirit and learn—when I finally poke my head back up into the world (go on Facebook or something) I realize that the world went on and people have enjoyed one another  suddenly I feel rejected.  And Alone. And the heartache and feelings of rejection that come are unbearable at times.

Sitting there last night physically alone but in the presence of hundreds of Christ followers, knowing the Saints of Old are there too, with Jesus, surrounding us.

—I laid the last six months down.  Months of being wrapped up in caring for both a sick child and my aging mother. Months of fear over lack of solutions.  Still knowing we don’t have them.

— I laid down my recurring depression which feels like my personal screw-up, a failure I cannot conquer.

— I laid down the isolation and loneliness that comes from shame and fear of rejection by others.

—I remembered all the good people that have reached out to us, asked how they can help and faced my confusion over not knowing what to say.  How many times I said, “thank you but no, we’re managing.”

—I accepted that I don’t know how to receive from others, whether it is because I don’t feel like I deserve it I wonder?  That just might be true.

Jesus’ mandate of Maundy Thursday is a challenge to us to love as we have been loved BY HIM.  Last night, shattered and broken, flooded with all my regrets, I just sat by him and knew, I don’t have to have the answers.

I don’t know how to let people love me.

In Hebrews it says, along with Faith, one must believe that God rewards those who seek him.  (11:4-6).

I’ve had enough looking out of windows, watching others live joyfully and only dreaming of entering into Community while refusing to risk, fearful of the messiness and imperfections of humans.

Jesus said: Love one another ya’ll!  That is so hard to do when you’re on the inside looking out.  When you’re so afraid of being hurt that you continuously push people away.

I heard him, there, Jesus said to me:  

Stop turning away. Love as you are loved, enter into hospitality, healing, wholeness and love—this sort of devotion is made up of my compassion and hope!  There’s no fear when you are abiding in me.

If we allow it, the power of fear dominate us.  What others think of us, fear of failure, fear of intimacy, fear of God, fear of ourselves and what we might actually do for him, even  fear of success.

As Nouwen said, “All our thoughts and actions proceed from a hidden wellspring of fear … but we were loved, before we were born we were declared BELOVED, and that should make us Unafraid.”  

We can walk through the world Free To Love One Another.

—May it be so, friends, I pray.

What is Lent Anyway, Besides Strange?

Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...
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Lent is strange for those that don’t follow the tradition.  Or if followed at all it may mean giving up a vice for 40 days, an addiction to technology or caffeine or sugar, but not really knowing why.

That was true for me for many years.  If you grew up in an evangelical church like I did, you may not know that much about Lent either.

It is the period of fasting leading up to Easter to remember Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness.  Like his fast, it is to be a time of sacrifice and listening.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends right before the evening service of Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday, depending on your tradition.  This year Lent begins on March 9 in the Western Church.

For the longest time I was attracted to the idea of giving up a vice that had persistently bothered me, but I had no theological understanding of the tradition.  I think evangelicals are remiss in not teaching about Lent, which can be a beautiful and profoundly meaningful tradition of growing closer to God.

I think we miss out because we give things up but don’t replace them with anything.

The intended purpose of Lent is a season of fasting, penitence, and self-denial, but also of spiritual growth, conversion, receiving from and embracing simplicity.

“Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead.

However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius aptly describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”1

The aim in observing Lenten disciplines is to be changed as a person — body, soul and spirit!

Therefore there is more to it than giving something up, which I’ll admit for the longest time I thought was fairly impressive in and of itself.  I don’t do well without caffeine which is something I habitually gave up. Or sweets.  Yikes that one is hard.

As one endeavors to grow to be more like Christ and know him better, with the grace of God the tradition says you would be focusing on Fasting, Praying, Almsgiving (Charity or service) and Scripture.

  • Fasting: The Catholic Church requires its members age 18 to 59 “to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, unless a physical condition prevents otherwise. This means only one full meal is permitted. The Fridays of Lent are days of required abstinence, meaning meat, and soups or gravies made of meat, are not permitted.”  This traditional way of fasting I have have never observed.  Giving up meat once a week or only drinking water for the 40 days is a way to remind ourselves of our abundance and to draw our attention to Christ’s sacrifice for us all.  And to be more conscious of how much we have.
  • Prayer: Lent is a good time to develop a discipline of daily prayer if you don’t have it already. Whatever it might be, the idea is to add the discipline of listening and seeking through prayer, whatever that looks like for you.
  • Almsgiving (Charity): While giving something up you are also to put something positive in its place. They say the best way to remove a vice is to cultivate virtue.  What might you do for someone else over Lent?
  • Scripture Reading: As he faced temptation in the desert, Jesus relied on Scripture to counter the trickery of the devil.  Growing up I was encouraged to memorize scripture, but today this rarely occurs in the Church. Memorize a section of scripture like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.   Or if you are thinking of reading a whole book of the Bible promise yourself to read two chapters a day or finish a medium-sized book of the Bible by Easter.

Also, here is a wonderful compilation of books to read, rituals and fasts to consider, and meditations to read from Rachel Held Evans.

When it comes down to it, so often we don’t take the time to ask why we do a certain thing.  Why do I need to observe Lent?

I found Evan’s ten questions helpful to ask myself as I prepare for Lent.  But I winnowed and edited them down to three simple questions.

  • Is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of my loving God or loving others?

Ask God to get a hold of that habit over the next 40 days and help you have the discipline to give it to him, forever.

  • Is there anyone in my life with whom I need to pursue forgiveness or reconciliation? This is unlikely to happen in 40 days, but preparing your hearts for it — yes, that can happen if you ask!  Here is a poem that I wrote during a time of profound grieving knowing I had done and said what I thought was “unforgiveable.”  It is called Longing for Mercy.

 

Ask God to begin to work in your heart (and in the other person) to ready you both for reconciliation in God’s perfect timing.

  • What am I willing to give up to carve out extra time for daily contemplation and listening to God?  So often we allow life to press in and set our priorities and not decide for ourselves.  What is important?  Perhaps you need to get up an hour earlier during Lent to be with God? I started doing this in September and I can tell you that my life will never be the same.  I find myself craving that time and (most mornings) it is not difficult to get up.  You may need to go to bed earlier to do it.  I do!  Again a sacrifice, but well worth it in my experience.

Ask God to show you what you need to stop doing to have more time with him.

Ultimately we simply strive to live with the attitudes of humility, repentance and thankfulness.  I pray that you will be richly met as you seek to know Jesus better.

-mhh

A few things I wrote last year about Lent.

And if you’re more confused than satisfied with my post, here is a great description of Lent as described by Marcel & Sarah who have a blog named Aggie Catholics and lots of reading material.

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Other sources I used.

http://www.churchyear.net/lent.html

2 http://rachelheldevans.com/40-ideas-for-lent-2011

http://niv.scripturetext.com/matthew/5.htm