Sugarless Lent Prepares My Heart for the Sweetness of Christ, A Guest Post at (in)courage

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. I grew up in a church that observed no more of the Church calendar than Easter and Christmas, but I was introduced to Lent in college, when I developed a great appreciation for its reminder of Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness and of His suffering. It is a focus on the cross before the Resurrection. I love the cross-shaped smearing of ashes on the forehead, a reminder that I am from the dust, and to the dust I will return. Last night, this reminder became all too real when I found out one of my students, a bright, kind, talented 24 year old, had died in a car crash. Continue reading

Overcome

DSC01261Every Good Friday, as I contemplate the death of Jesus, I think about the death of my own father, who died eight years ago of pancreatic cancer on Good Friday itself. It’s hard to think the timing of a loved one’s death could be good no matter when it is–and my father’s death was a great loss to our family–but I feel that God helped my family with the timing of my dad’s death in a big way.

Although I was across the country teaching high school at the time, I was able to be with my parents for a good portion of the three weeks that my dad knew he had cancer before he died. The reason for this is that he found out the diagnosis right before my spring break, so I could easily travel out of state to be with them through the first appointments and processing that went on as we turned to face the deadly threat of cancer. I could help them in small ways, and I could call on God for help with them. I went back home and left them for a week and a half, at the end of which the doctors were talking about hospice care, no more than days before the end. I flew back out there, once again only missing a few days of work because Good Friday and the day after Easter were scheduled days off school.

The timing was good when it came to me being able to be there with my parents as they faced death together, but the timing was even better because it was Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus dying on the cross. Every year now, Good Friday is that much more meaningful and poignant to me. I understand the gravity of Jesus’ death–I can picture His last breath in a way I couldn’t before. I feel the weight of it.

More importantly, though, two days later, on Easter morning, I was strongly embraced (the same way my dad used to hug me) by the hope that because of Jesus’ victory over death, my dad is alive in Heaven, as well. I picture him going on a walk with my sister, grandma, and brother-in-law, maybe even holding my miscarried child’s hand, my sister and sister-in-law’s miscarried children running alongside. That Easter, and every Easter since, filled me with a piercing, painful joy. Death has been defeated! I can say along with Paul, quoting from Hosea, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55).

My worship leaders at church this past Easter chose a few songs this year with the words “He has overcome.” I was reminded once again: He HAS overcome the grave! And if He can overcome that, what stronghold can’t He overcome? He wears the victor’s crown!

Dependence

In Genesis 2, God told Adam and Eve they could eat freely from any tree in the garden of Eden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said if they decided to eat from it anyway, they would surely die. This pronouncement was part of the curse God later gave in Genesis 3 after Eve and Adam went ahead and ate the fruit, right? Of course, as the serpent predicted to Eve, they didn’t die right away after eating the fruit, but figurative and spiritual death aside, they did start to die physically.

It hasn’t been long since I finished writing a Bible study called Glimpses of Jesus in Early Genesis. When I say “finished,” I mean that I completed the heart of it, but I still have a lot of editing to do with the help of wonderful family and friends who have given me some very helpful criticism, encouragement, and suggestions. I’m not sure when I started writing this study, but I can say that it’s been a few years now. However, a new thought about the punishment of death came to me that had never occurred to me before. I love that I can continually mine the depths of Scripture and keep finding new insights through the Holy Spirit.

In fact, I wasn’t even studying the Word when I realized this. I was listening to someone a little farther along in years than I am. She mentioned in passing that as we grow older, we grow more and more dependent on God. She wasn’t talking about Adam or Eve or the curse, but as I’ve been recently studying about them, their punishment of death jumped to the forefront of my mind, and I thought, Wait a second! The death and dying process that seemed to be a curse to Adam and Eve was actually a blessing; it was actually what they needed!

I had never thought of the slow decay of our bodies as a blessing before, a direct remedy to the problem of sin. If Adam and Eve were going to rebel against God, thinking in pride that they could be like Him, they were going to need the humility that comes when we become physically weak. When they thought they could go their own way and do what they wanted to do in opposition to God’s way, they were going to need to be put in a place where they couldn’t go their own way or do what they wanted without help. Perhaps they could choose to get their help solely from other humans, but as many find, the help other humans can give us is limited–only God can give us everything we need.

How kind He was to make this process for the most part gradual so we can learn this lesson in a way that we can handle. We are born helpless, dependent on others, but for the most part not understanding much about our ultimate dependence on God because of our limited understanding as children. We depend on our parents or our caregivers, and in so doing, learn from birth how to trust and get help when we need it. As we grow, we learn how to be more independent, but if we are wise, we remember some of the lessons we learned as children. If we don’t remember these lessons of humility, trusting others and ultimately God for help when we need it–if we, like Adam and Eve, are rebellious–we always have the slow bodily decay to bring us back to the lesson we should have learned in the beginning. Now, as adults we can understand that no caregiver can truly help us with what we need–we need God. May our heart cry to Him, “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings” (Psalm 61:3-4).

Recently I celebrated my 36th birthday. I suppose I’m not old enough to truly understand this concept by personal experience, but I am at an age when I’m starting to notice the start of my bodily decay. I can’t run as fast as I used to be able to; I get injured more often (especially when I try to run as fast I used to); it’s harder to make extra pounds go away; I have some alarming lines between, around, and especially under my eyes; and I have more than just one white hair at my temples. This proof of my lack of invincibility forces me to surrender more of myself to God and helps decrease some of my pride. I can imagine that the older I get, the more I will have to deal with this issue. Praise God that He gave us a punishment to perfectly fit our crime–not in the sense of revenge but in the sense of truly addressing the root problem. My prayer is that He will give me and my husband the wisdom to discipline our own children in this way–to find a discipline that will not just keep them from doing wrong but actually give them what they need.

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I’m not as young as I once was, but I pray my smile lines, frown lines, and injuries will attest to a deeper dependence on God.