Now let the heavens be joyful,
Let the earth her song begin:
Let the round world keep triumph,
And all that is therein;
Invisible and visible,
Their notes let all things blend,
For Christ is risen, Our joy shall have no end!
~St. John of Damascus
I find myself so anxious to share with you, my precious friends, the joy I find in the message of Christ this year, while deep in the mire of challenges and difficulties. Though I am not able to read or look at my computer or screens because of my eye injury, I have done my best to leave you a podcast message and this blog post that I hope will be of come encouragement to you. Know that you are all in my prayers.
Most of us have those in our lives who have wounded us again and again. We have all had to deal with "irregular" people; those who are self-centered, or always seem angry or harsh or critical, self-absorbed in their lives rather than willing to give. We may long for words of love, encouragement, and grace from them, and yet are met with harshness or impatience or passivity or withholding of love. Often it is a family member--a spouse, parent, brother, or child. Or it could be a neighbor or "fellow Christian." Our hearts cry, "It's not fair! I am not willing to be hurt one more time. How can I escape this difficult relationship?"
In reality, sometimes we ourselves are the irregular people.
The tension of having to live with such a person (or ourselves!) is very difficult to manage. Our desire is to run away, to leave, to not allow ourselves to continually be in that place where deep wounds may occur again any time.
At a couple of our mom's conferences one year, we found well over half of the women who attended came from alcoholic, divorced, or abusive families. Astounding--a majority of the people around me, though it is not evident in their outside appearances, have wounds, scars, deep insecurity, pain from the closest of relationships in their lives.
This world is the broken place--the place where Satan is the ruler of the world, and yet ... there is the promise of Easter.
As I approach each Easter season, I ask Christ to show me what He wants me to know, to understand, and how to love Him more. Each year I am surprised at the outcome.
One year, a group of my girlfriends got together for our traditional meetup on Easter weekend. After spending time talking and giggling, we noisily tramped downstairs and squeezed in together on an over-sized couch and began watching the movie which was made using just the words of the gospel of John. We quickly became immersed in the middle-eastern world of Jesus.
His words penetrated our souls. The lakeside waves, the tumble of personalities and antics of the disciples, the amazed blind man who received sight, the broken-hearted harlot who was caught in adultery, the tousling of heads of children as Jesus passed through, the compassionate feeding of the 5000, and through it all, Jesus' patience and forbearance in the midst of what seemed constant arguing, questioning, and accusing.
I was surprised at how hungry my soul was for His message. The crowds argued with Him, the Pharisees accused Him; twice they sought to stone Him, His authority was questioned, His miracles were questioned. He was accused of being filled with a demon. Haunted by constant, pushy, demanding crowds and the relentless needs of lost, lonely, hungry souls. And yet, from the beginning, He was ever moving toward his death, His cross, His sacrifice.
Jesus' divine meekness and His gentle spirit was so beautiful to me as I watched Him enveloping all in His pathway with profound, true insight, healing love, and soothing, soul-felt words of life. In his writing of the gospel, John sought to give us a glimpse into the compassionate heart of Jesus.
The Creator stooped that final night to wash 120 dirty toes. He gently touched, cleansed and dried the feet of His most intimate friends--even those of the one who would betray Him.
His remarkable words washed over my soul:
"Just as the Father has loved me, I have loved you. Abide in my love." 15:9
"Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends." 15:13
"They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another." (5 times!)
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you." 15:18
"These things I have spoken to you that you may be kept from stumbling,..., an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think he is offering a service to God." 16: 1-2
"You will weep and lament, but your sorrow will be turned to joy." 16:20
"In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world." 16:33
And then, He went to the cross; willingly, humbly, generously, feeling all the pain and despising it, yet holding on for the joy ahead where redemption and healing and love would reign supremely for eternity.
With His dying breath: "Forgive them, because they do not understand what they are doing."
And so for me, the message from His spirit became clear.
If I am to understand my God, I am to imitate His life, His love, His generous forgiveness and mercy, and His life of servanthood, of pouring Himself out for others so undeserving ... I have to change. There is no more room for the pointing of fingers or critical attitudes or the pettiness of hateful thoughts that rob my soul from grace. In order for a muscle to be built, it must be torn and then repair itself--and the end result will be strength. And so soul strength comes through the same process.
When I practice love with irregular, irrational people, I am renewed as my soul builds strength, as I gain knowledge and deep understanding of the very nature of my Savior.
In this place, there is no room for bitterness, accusations, hate, or anger to overpower, because the light of His forgiving love overcomes all darkness.
In pondering, loving, and worshiping this man, my God; by exercising the same grace He lived when "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," my soul is spiritually stretched in the fire of reality to begin to understand a little more of Him, and my heart is bowed down to worship more fully the One who is love, grace, and forgiveness. And in this knowledge, I, too, find generous, unconditional forgiveness and healing love.
A blessed Good Friday and joyous Easter to you all!