Back in November was the beginning of Advent, the forty days of prayer and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ. The babe born in the manger. The wise men from the East. The shepherds. The quietness of His mother, Mary, who listened and watched and pondered all those things in her heart.
Today begins Lent, the forty days of prayer and preparation for the most important event of my faith. Some would argue that it was the most important event in all of human history: the resurrection of that same Christ from the dead after His crucifixion. New life. Life after death. The offering of new life to us.
At least, that is what I'm supposed to say and write today. I'm supposed to be certain about everything and doubtless and fearless. I'm supposed to have many more answers than I actually have. I'm supposed to be flashing my fist and pointing to passages and demanding a verdict. But, truthfully, this faith thing is not always so easy and clear and certain for me. I continue to wonder and ponder and "what if?" and "why not?" most days.
One thing I do know for sure: I am not ever going to stop seeking more of Christ and His truth in my life. I am not ever going to stop praying through and reading about and journaling around and living out this faith I profess. I do not have all the answers. I don't even want all the answers. What I want is more time and more space and a deeper relationship with Christ.
Because it has been my experience that, even when the days and nights are unfathomably dark, when my countless questions go unanswered, when I am all alone with my anger and sorrow and fear and loathing, the peace of Christ does still rule in my heart. An inexplicable, unexpected, unsurpassable peace descends over my soul, and I remember yet again that all shall be well. I remember that the answers are not nearly as important as the peace that reigns in spite of the remaining queries.
Another thing I know for sure is this: I will mess up. I will fall down. I will walk angrily, resentfully, petulantly through many valleys and many shadows. At those times in the future, as I have in the past, I will cry out for mercy. I will plead for wisdom and discernment. I will beg for patience and grace. I will ask for more strength and more faith. And at those times in the future, as in the past, I will recognize that I already have everything I need for life and godliness. It's already here. I already have it. I already have Him.
As I sat for prayer on this Ash Wednesday morning, I mumbled out a few words of gratitude and more than a few words of supplication. I sat in silence for a while. I wondered what to say next, what to ask for, what to confess. Then I opened my favorite book of Lenten readings and was stunned yet again by Henri Nouwen's Ash Wednesday prayer in Show Me the Way - and I have read through this book every year since 2002. Here is an excerpt:
I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, human respect, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.
I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are no times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.
Yes, Henri. I too remain divided. So much of the time, I resist choosing anyone or anything other than myself. The amazing thing is that, if what the Bible says is true, then Christ chose to come to earth as a baby, to be born in an animal stall, and to live among the poor and diseased and dispossessed of his day. He chose to be condemned by those who feared and hated him, to die a cruel death, to be buried, and to rise again three days later. He chose to do all that even though He knew that most of the people who He would meet during His 33 years on earth, and most of the people who would hear about Him and read His Word in the 2000+ years after His life would choose to reject Him and to doubt that He even existed. He chose to do all that even though people like me, people who claim to believe His Word, continue to wonder and doubt. Apparently, although I am divided, He was not. That is, indeed, both amazing grace and amazing love.
For the next forty days, I will spend a great deal of time pondering these questions as I walk yet another Lenten journey. I am certain that there will be many more questions at the end than at the beginning. But that is fine. The best news is that the work has already been done. The love has already been lavishly shared. All I have to do is keep on walking.