Friday, March 7, 2014

From Sorrow to Joy

It's been a hard week. These past few days, I've become acutely, painfully aware of my own personal sinfulness. My relationships, my habits, my day-to-day activities, my very thoughts - everything in my world seems to be conspiring to bring my faults into glaring clarity. And it hurts. I'm ashamed. Maybe it's no coincidence that all this is happening parallel to the beginning of Lent. There's been quite a lot of discussion on facebook this week surrounding Lent; people giving up chocolate or fiction; people fasting and praying; people wondering what Lent is and if we should even participate since Lent itself isn't a Biblical practice. Personally, I believe that any tradition is what you make it, Lent included. If there's no reason or purpose behind the sacrificing of a particular pleasure or vice save that everyone's doing it, to me it has little true value. Sure, you might lose a few pounds or get rid of an unhealthy habit, which is good, but I think the practice of Lenten sacrifice can have so much more meaning when we use the time to deliberately, intentionally consider what Jesus did for us and our dire need of Him. Traditionally, it's known as a time of preparation of the heart to receive and celebrate Jesus, culminating with the pinnacle of Easter and resurrection. So I guess that's what I'm doing. I'm taking a long, hard look within, not making excuses, not glossing anything over, no pretense, no evasion. And I don't like what I'm finding. Not one bit.

I participated in a beautiful, meaningful Ash Wednesday service (the first day of Lent) this week. The music and lyrics and liturgy were well-crafted and thoughtfully compiled. In one part of the service, we all together recited a confession of sin. I'd like to share it here:

Most holy and merciful God: we confess to you and to one another, and before the whole company of heaven, that we have sinned by our fault, by our own fault, by our own most grievous fault, in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.
We have shut our ears to your call to serve as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Our past unfaithfulness, the pride, envy, hypocrisy,
and apathy that have infected our lives.,
we confess to you.
Our self-indulgent appetites and ways,
and our exploitation of other people,
we confess to you.
Our negligence in prayer and worship,
and our failure to share the faith that is in us,
we confess to you.
Our neglect of human need and suffering, 
and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
we confess to you.
Our false judgements, our uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbours,
and our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
we confess to you.
Our waste and pollution of your creation,
and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
we confess to you.

There are no words to describe how much grief I felt as a result of reciting this confession. It all fit! Every word! The sorrow that I was feeling over the state of my soul had begun the day before, and this prayer expressed what my downcast spirit had been unable to articulate. It's so clear to me this week that I don't deserve, can't do anything to deserve, this wild, extravagant, illogical grace and mercy. And right now, in my present mood of self-disgust, I don't even feel able to contemplate it, to receive it, to acknowledge that I might have some part in this glorious redemption. It's been a real challenge to be with people, to try and achieve some level of acceptable cordiality without feeling like an utter hypocrite. When most people smile and ask, " How are you?", they're not looking for much more than, "Good, thanks - and you?". (This isn't true of everyone, for which I am very grateful...) I know it's mostly a time issue and a socially-expected question/answer routine, but it's made me feel so false and hollow. Not that I want to go pouring out my heart to all I meet (that's what this blog is for, after all :) ), but I wish it was ok to say...something, something that reflects the reality of my current position; something to express that I'm not ok and that I'm ok with not being ok, and that you can be ok with that, too. It's a necessary process for me right now, I think. I'm hoping that it will eventually progress to a profound thankfulness for the solid fact of my salvation and a renewed sense of trust and power and resolve to follow hard after Christ. But I'm just not there yet. I feel the need to face up to the reality of my sinfulness, my brokenness, my depravity in light of the cross. I never want to take this indescribable gift for granted - though I know I often, almost always, do.

And so I'm sorrowful, sorrow-filled, that I could so belittle the grandeur of this gift, this love. I look at my life and think, "I've been at this for so long, shouldn't I be farther along than this?" I feel shame over the fact that God must take me through the same lessons over and over and over again, that I learn, rejoice, apply - and forget!

Dare I issue an invitation for you to join me in this part of the joy-journey? The beauty of it all is that even as I lament and grieve my sin, I'm already looking ahead to the end of the story, which is always the beginning of my story - hope, life, grace, peace, love.  The path to joy can, perhaps must, include sorrow - much like Jesus' own journey from the manger to the cross to the grave to miraculous life!

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53:5-6)

1 comment:

  1. And thanks be to God in His great mercy that through belief in Christ and His work on the cross there is no condemnation! Hallelujah, What a Saviour!