All of Me for All of You Type Sacrifice

This is the sixth post in a series on Lenten reflections. You can find part one, the prelude, here. Part two, an overview about the six weeks of Lent and what it offers, can be found here. The third, a post about the communal nature of fasting, can be found here. The fourth, the value of alms giving can be found here. And the fifth, repairing shame through repentance can be found here.

To say that I was an overachiever when I was young is a bit of an understatement. As much as I’d like to blame my parents for my perfectionist tendencies, I can’t. I think I was born a bit neurotic, which is to say that I was born feeling like I had to prove myself. After two decades, it meant that I had a whole host of awards to my name.

At some time, all those recognitions must have gone to my head, because by time I was 19, I thought that I could have the goal of becoming the next National Press Secretary. I chuckle at the idea now, but it was a very serious dream back then.

But then, in my junior year of college, I got pregnant. It’s not the first time a young girl got pregnant unexpectedly, and I’m sure I wasn’t the last, but because of the awards, and because of the expectations, and because I was known as the God girl, it was a disaster. Standing, staring down at the pregnancy test, I hesitated to let it all sink in because there was one thing that I knew: if the baby was going to have any chance of having a normal life, my dreams — all my dreams — were dead. My reputation, my character, my achievements, and my goals were all gone. In seconds, I was very aware that I would have to sacrifice every thing I knew and work towards a life for a kid I didn’t even know.*

And that’s what I did.

I look at my life and my 10 year old son now, and it all doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, it seems a little silly to even write it so dramatically. But it was the hardest thing I had to do, and it is a choice that continues to be a sacrifice in the sense that those goals, and that life, are still forever over.  And in those moments when I miss who I used to be, I feel the weight of sacrifice that has been paid:

All of me for all of you.

Because that experience was lived-in, I approach Holy Week differently. I know we’re supposed to think about what has been sacrificed for us. But instead of putting on black and covering myself with ashes, I think about what it feels to be the one sacrificing. I think about where Jesus’ mind was at as He made the conscious and deliberate choice to make us His kids.

He knew the mocking that would take place, the torments, the slander, the spitting, the whipping, the stripping, but there was a moment in there before all that. It was the moment of choice. He had to choose me. He had to choose us. And it was going to take all of him for all of us.

And it doesn’t matter if you believe that the sacrifice He conducted was for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, or just to teach us how to stop being such assholes to each other and to live peacefully. He still had the foreknowledge to know what was coming, and He choose to give up everything He had worked for, and cultivated, so that we could have a life that we wouldn’t have had if He didn’t. All of Him for all of me.

That’s where I want my mind to be this week. Steeped in the truth that He chose me. That He chose a path where He could be with me. That He chose having me as a kid, sister, friend, not in spite of the cross, but before the cross. And He keeps choosing, even if it still means that there are additional sacrifices now. Because I’m what matters to Him.

You’re what matters to Him.

He’d choose to sacrifice anything so you could live a rich, full, deep life, here, as you breathe your last, and beyond the last breaths.

May you spend your week steeped in the truth that you are so deeply loved.

Pam

*Now, most people will correct me at this point in the story. They will point out that there’s a lot of working moms out there. And I understand where they are coming from. And so, I just want to add, it’s not that I didn’t think I could ever work again. It’s that I couldn’t work where I wanted, how I wanted, and when I wanted to. Media relations teams work 14 hour days, and that’s just not the mother I wanted to be. To have the baby meant that it had my priority.

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The Meaning of Repentence in a Shame Filled World

This is the fifth post in a series on Lenten reflections. You can find part one, the prelude, here. Part two, an overview about the six weeks of Lent and what it offers, can be found here. The third, a post about the communal nature of fasting, can be found here. And the fourth, the value of alms giving can be found here.

A recent Catholic mystic had a vision of walking with Jesus. She said that He took her to Purgatory. Unlike what she was expecting, Purgatory was a beautiful place, filled with valleys and flowers, a crystal-clear river, and brilliant, bright sunshine. But she found people along a walking path who were crying out in pain. As they walked, she asked Jesus, “Why don’t you help these people? Why don’t you forgive them?”

“I have forgiven them,” He said. “They haven’t forgiven themselves.”

And with that, Jesus bent down, looked at one of them, and with the compassion found in His eyes, they got up, and walked further down the path.

mist of mercy

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The obsession with sin — defining it; being freed from it; explaining it — has caused ridiculous confusion about who God is, and what humans relationship to God should look like, especially in the past 200-300 years.  We’ve so messed this idea up that I don’t know if there is any other way to keep someone from running into God’s arms more than to accuse them of sin. It invites a fight.

But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

In spite of our misunderstanding,  the idea of sin, and subsequently repentance, was supposed to be a beautiful understanding of the human condition. Because sin, according to the old teachers of the law, is  “a break in the shalom”* – a disruption in how it’s supposed to be.

Sin is our human condition then. It’s life interrupted. And therefore, repentance is supposed to be an invitation; a returning to something that was already offered. A return to paradise.

In other words, sin is the stuff that stops us from freedom — freedom of exploration, freedom of expression, and freedom in relationship. And repentance is accepting more — more exploration, more expression, more relationship.

Sin is something that we’ll torture ourselves over later. We’ll see how things could have been for us and for others and we’ll be just devastated.  Sin is not something that we’ll be shamed FOR, then, but something that we’ll be ashamed OF, and it’ll keep us from walking into the paths of paradise.With our best friend. For all of time.

The logical choice to turn away from that future is repentance then. It’s understanding that we’re not held to these shameful acts, and then choosing to accept forgiveness, the only way out.

Repentance is about reconnecting with Jesus’ great compassion and believing Him that He’ll restore shalom in another way, and then continuing to walk together towards something better.

When we talk about repenting during Lent, THIS is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about walking whatever path we need to to make sure we stay together. We’re talking about wanting shalom, for ourselves and for others. And being mindful to keep the shalom we have, no matter the cost.

During that process, may God be with you, inviting … beckoning …harkening in your heart for you to desire more of this shalom.

*This idea come from Cornelius Plantinga in his book Engaging God’s World, although I admit that I was introduced to it years ago in a talk by Robb Bell. In addition, many other writers have spoken on it, particularly in the past year, including Scott McKnight, NT Wright, and Kurt Willems.

Reflections for Week 3 of Lent: The Open Arms of Almsgiving

This is the fourth post in a series on Lent. You can find part one, the prelude, here. Part two, an overview about the six weeks of Lent and what it offers, can be found here. The third, a post about the communal nature of fasting, can be found here.

Every once in awhile, a television show goes viral. Like a good pop song or a great idea, people can’t help but talk about it — obsess over it — identify with it.. When television does this well, it’s usually because there is a compelling relationship to watch. The storyline may start out as some casual encounter, but soon, we’re drawn in by this couple, or set of partners, or brothers that have this extraordinary commitment to each other. At the climax of this storytelling, we often find that one of these strong, bold characters yields to what’s better for the other, often at great cost to their self. Some weep at the beauty of this sacrificial giving. And others more cynically deconstruct the decision. But in that moment, the show ceases to be just a show. It becomes personal. It becomes real.

I’ve always wondered why we could care so much about fictional characters in this way, but not be as moved when we see pictures of the poor or oppressed. But in the past couple of years, other brilliant minds have researched and wrote about why: because we’re only moved to care for the things that we think we can actually change.

Which, is why, many Christians have difficulty with the call for alms giving at Lent. We don’t have a picture of what alms giving means, or why it’s important. It becomes just another donation from our wallet. A donation not unlike the extra dollar we spend for breast cancer, or leukemia, or the planet. We don’t think we can do anything or change anything, so we just yield our pocket change instead.

But almsgiving is about something entirely different than mere donation. Alms giving is an opportunity to return to the image we were created in: a God who is a prodigal giver.

God doesn’t give because of obligation or responsibility. God is generous because giving until it hurts — giving your all – is actually when we see love. And God is love.*

When someone gives at that level — at the level of giving anything and everything — lives are changed. When someone gives at that level, they themselves change. They become more of who they were created to be.

For  “We were made in the image of God – a giver – and we’ll never be happy until we return to that image.”*

If you really want to walk the road of lent, pick one thing that you have to give your all to for the remaining twenty days or so. Pick someone or something that you have to give your free time and your emotional energy and your money to, and dedicate yourself to it in order to better someone else’s life. Have open arms, withholding nothing. And see, see if you don’t get something more valuable and rare in return in the end.

May God fill you with grace and peace as you trust that there is enough.

Love,

Pam

**These quotes will be attributed when I find out who the appropriate person to attribute them to is.

When Fasting Isn’t Just About Repentance

“We commit ourselves to (the) process because Lent reminds us that there’s something better than what we’re currently experiencing, but it’s going to take us letting go of whatever we’re clinging to in order to obtain it. We’re going to have to stop picking and choosing spiritual disciplines, and instead, come under the whole experience of what it means to lay down our lives and gain the whole world.”  

Those are the words I wrote just last week. And I meant them. But I had to think deeply before I inked that on the page because I know that part of the process of Lent is fasting. And really, is there anything that people dread more than the idea of fasting? I mean, really, is there anything more boring to read about than the theology of a fast? In our “I-have-all-the-information-I ever-need-to-know-in-my-pocket society,” the answer to that question is no.

We don’t want to know about fasting. We don’t want to read about it. We don’t want to explore it. For goodness sake, truth be told, we don’t want to do it! If, for some insane reason we find ourselves agreeing to fast, we make it as easy as possible: sun-up to sun-down, and go to bed early. We wake up, we have our pancakes, and we hope that we’re not asked to do that again anytime soon.

But it wasn’t always like this.

I grew up on the Southside of Chicago — a place where you identified your neighborhood by your parish, not by what mile markers you lived between. Despite this self-identification, it always surprised me that the Lenten fast was so strictly followed by my neighbors. Being in a small, tight-knit community, even children knew that there were men who hated the church, and held to every vice, but who stood in line at the local fish store on a Friday like the rest of us.

What was this power? Why would men who couldn’t care less about the church want to follow one of the hardest church teachings?

I believe it’s because we’ve missed the point of the fast. Fasting was meant to be a communal thing.  

I can dissect biblical texts and prove it to you, but the most compelling evidence of it can be proven in your own life. While you can fast alone, think about what happens to you when you do. Namely, you feel isolated, alone, and like you’ve been left the handle your problems by yourself, talking and pleading with a God who seems very cruel, mean, and distant. Now, think about when you’ve fasted with a friend, spouse, small group, or as a church. How did you feel? I would bet that you felt included, empowered, strengthened, and more faithful.

That’s because Fasting is a community realization that we went the wrong way. That we collectively embraced ideas, thoughts, behaviors, and practices that led us away from God, each other, and life abundant. We realize the ways that we weren’t there for each other. We become aware that we we’re fearful that no one would care for us, and so we took care of ourselves.

We see that we’ve become small and weak because we’re living lives of shame and hiding. Repentance– turning away — might be the path that we choose from these realizations, if we can push past the hurt and pain and fear long enough and courageously enough to walk a different path. But often, we break fast because we can’t even get there. We feel that hurt and pain, and hide again, and then turn again to our self-soothing. That choice is not a choice to sin. It’s a demonstration of just how unhealthy we are. It’s a cry for help.

The men in my neighborhood who hated church fasted because it meant they were a part of the tribe. That despite theological differences, they too could participate in church life and church community. It was the one time of the year that they didn’t have to explain that they wanted to be a part of church, but felt forced out. That’s the power of a liturgical fast. It’s the opposite of a “farewell…” statement. It’s a group-thought behavior where we all get to be on the same playing field, if only for a day. And where all our burdens, boredom, and disappointment is met with faces and voices of those who admit the same struggles.

As you abstain from chocolate, or coffee, or sugar this lent — As you turn away from binge watching on Netflix or overindulgence, I pray that you remember that you’re not alone. You’re not alone in your longing for friendship. You’re not alone when you face hardship. And you’re not alone as you walk this life. You have people who you don’t even know who pray for you. You have people who want to connect. You don’t have to bear this life alone.

Love,

Pam