In almost every way, this Lent has not been what I expected. That began early, when the timing of Lent snuck up on me and I didn't feel led towards a specific, easily enforceable discipline. Instead of something straightforward like, "Give up caffeine," or "Walk every day," or even "Pray the hours," I felt a need to open myself and be receptive to the idea of being led daily to the well I needed to drink from. This idea was a little scary to me, but I wanted to be responsive and receptive, even in my fear. So I was blindsided, hurt and left reeling when I posted about Lent and received a snarky comment about Lent being a time for penitence. The implication was that my discipline of seeking creative and restorative outlets was selfish and inappropriate. That, combined with a reticence on God's part to direct me, left me stumbling through Lent rather than following along, walking near Jesus' side.
Perhaps the stumbling along can be traced back to the first whisper I heard to write during Lent. Because I have done many things over the last forty days, but very little writing. Taking a step away from writing has been somewhat unintentional, yet I've been aware of the slippage and allowed it to happen. Like a workout routine left undone for too long, it became easier and easier to not write. I certainly had plenty of other things to fill my time and my soul gradually quieted and stopped asking questions that needed to be processed in writing.
But even as that form of communication quieted, longer form writing ideas pursued me - everything from an idea for a novel to an idea for a children's book series. I have not written one word towards giving birth to either of these ideas, yet they circle in my mind and leave me fearful and frozen. That's what fear does to me - it freezes me. My mental and physical muscles clench and I feel unable to fight or flee, regardless of what they tell you adrenaline is for. So the blog sits for days, then weeks and my writing muscles atrophy, then stop even asking for the release of exercise. Thankfully, it was in just such a moment of fear induced frostbite that I went on silent retreat.
|The Ghosts of Leah and Rachel|
As my retreat began, Leah kept circling in my mind. Maybe you've heard of her? She's the one who married Jacob, when he intended to marry her sister, Rachel. Her father tricked Jacob into marrying her, probably because he thought this was the only way he could marry her off. Jacob never really loved Leah and I've always thought her story was a sad one. She was on my mind because I had read about her in the Jesus Storybook Bible to my daughters. Here's how her story ends in Sally Lloyd-Jones' rendition:
One of Leah's children's children's children would be a prince - the Prince of Heaven - God's Son.
This Prince would love God's people. They wouldn't need to be beautiful for him to love them. He would love them with all of his heart. And they would be beautiful because he loved them.
Leah wasn't loved because she was beautiful, she was beautiful because she was loved. God blessed Leah in a way the world saw as blessing - he gave her children. And not just children, but sons. There was no greater gift, no more sought-after role than to give birth to sons. But at first, Leah misinterprets God's blessings. Each time she gives birth to a son, Leah thinks this will make Jacob love her. She says, "God has seen my misery, now Jacob will love me (Reuben). God has heard my cry, now Jacob will hear me (Simeon). God has given me three sons, now Jacob will connect with me (Levi)." And that does not happen.
Jacob does not love her.
But finally, Leah sees that someone does love her: God. So when she gives birth to a fourth son, she says, "I will praise God (Judah)."
Judah is the line of Jacob's family that Jesus will be born into. It's to a town of Judah that Mary will travel to give birth. And Mary, like Leah is blessed by God. But she's blessed in a way that the world would never, ever expect. She's blessed with an out of wedlock baby, a son who leaves her to fulfill his ministry and who she ultimately watches die on the cross. While Leah may have been blessed in a way the world acknowledged and valued, Mary's blessing from God was not what she - or anyone else - was expecting.
But both were blessed. God loved Leah and Mary, even if the outward signs of his love were vastly different.
My expectations for Lent have gone mostly unmet this year. I haven't felt closer daily to Jesus. I haven't had an outpouring of creativity or seen with clarity a habit I need to break. But even if my expectations have gone unmet, I have been met. I've been met by the Holy Spirit, who hovers in and amidst my pain and confusion. I've been met by Jesus when I've had the space and grace to invite him in.
I have been met with Leah and Mary and how their stories help me see my own story more clearly and more compassionately.
Whatever expectations, hopes and dreams you have that are unmet, may you meet Jesus, especially on this cold, dreary Easter weekend when we are reminded of how much we all need Him. And may meeting Him propel you to action and move you out of the place of fear, than can keep us locked in and frozen.