Wrestle with God (Friday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Fifth Friday in Lent
My eyes are spent with weeping;
my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out on the ground
because of the destruction of my people,
because infants and babes faint
in the streets of the city.
I’ve performed many more weddings than funerals. I’ve had the privilege of officiating ceremonies in Napa Valley, CA and Paris, France, at the foot of the Grand Tetons and the belly of a cruise ship. Each memory stirs feelings of joy and newness, hope and promise.
I also live as a white male with a PhD, some resources, a beautiful family, and a now tenured faculty position. Life is good. So it’s hard to relate, at times, to texts like the one above. I’m not living at the epicenter of Middle East terrorism or inner city violence. I don’t see the destruction of bodies on my streets and I’ve can’t relate to my black friend’s regular racist interactions with his neighbors in our town.
But can I open my eyes? Can I choose to see, to listen to stories, to step into places of discomfort, to enter in to the pain?
I’ve had the privilege of being a therapist, among other hats I wear. That has been my place of entrance, of companionship, of alliance. It’s in that place that my blinders come off and I’m invited into the solidarity of another’s story. But it’s hard, at times – really hard. I’d rather not believe that church-going Christians are racists, that seemingly good men are narcissistic abusers, that sweet grandmothers can be sexual predators. I choose to enter in. I choose to see, however painful the truth and the stories are.
Where do you enter in? If Lent is a season of repentance, at least a part of that repentance is choosing to move toward the pain. Beyond personal maturation and transformation, Lent is a season of participation in the sufferings of the world, something we’re called to do (Philip. 3). Just as we choose to remove every fig-leaved and false-selved mask, we choose to dive beneath the societal mask of supposed exceptionalism and freedom and prosperity to see the world’s deep pain. We choose to see.
Our true self in Christ has a kind of homing beacon. It’s compass-direction leads us to our central vocation – love of God and love of neighbor. The true self is guided by compassion, kindness, love, and empathy. It moves toward every so-called “other.” It refuses to categorize, demonize, or diminish the image-bearing humanity of another. But I often live out of every other agenda-driven false self within. I’ve got work to do. And so do you.
When we read the stories of Scripture, including the difficult laments like the one above, our blinders are removed. In Scripture, we do not find a sanitary tale of ascent into heavenly bliss, but an often messy and painful fall into the goodness of God’s creation. Through the messy stories of Scripture, we watch beauty emerge from brokenness, redemption from despair, freedom from slavery. But we’ve got to look, perhaps with fresh new eyes, in order to see the pain.
And so, wrestle with God’s word. And wrestle with the implications of living in this beautiful-and-broken world. Where might you choose to enter in?
I’ve done a lot of weddings. I like hope and new beginnings. I like happy stories and hopeful promises. I want to celebrate goodness wherever it is found. But I’m also learning that it is found in the unexpected and sometimes messy places, too.
Incarnate Christ, you moved close to the pain of the world. You entered in. You became a bearer of that pain for the sake of the world. I want to follow you into the beauty and brokenness of this world for the sake of its transformation…and mine. Amen