When I was 17 Mrs. Lewis gave me a flowered, lined journal as a graduation gift. She was one of the teachers at my high school, and she was a woman of grace and authority. She gave it to me and said, “You need to start writing in this, every day.” The habit of journaling for me had been intermittent since I was barely old enough to write, but Mrs. Lewis’ generosity and intentionality toward me planted a seed in my heart. Writing has had a significant impact on my prayer life and my creative work. Mrs. Lewis went to be with Jesus this week and I’ve been thinking about her legacy. I’m so thankful to have known her. That generative seed has come to bear much fruit. I wonder how many other students she handed journals to? I wonder how many occasions we give a gift without knowing the impact it will have on the recipient?
As spring is beginning to emerge, I’m feeling the thrill of the new season in extra measure this year as I’m looking forward to getting married in just a few months. Lately, I’ve realized that lent is very much like engagement. As a follower of Jesus, the metaphor of engagement is not lost on me. We’ve been given a ring and a promise, but the groom is taking his time. He’s set his love upon us, but we still feel alone sometimes. In fact, my fiancé lives a few hundred miles away, in a different state. His daily absence, his voice on the phone reminds me of the “I’m coming back for you,” of the gospel narrative. And like the gospel narrative, after we have made promises of commitment, some days the wedding feels a long way off.
In seasons of transition, even joyful ones, there’s often a little bit of disorientation as we’re learning a new way to live. It takes time to get used to a new landscape, and to rediscover who we are given a different set of circumstances. In the stress of life change, we have two options; we can either grasp for control, or we can simply and actively let go.
The life of faith in real-time feels a little bit like floating down a river in a canoe. Our boat often rushes dangerously close to the edge of the shore. The water is carrying us swiftly downstream. It is turbulent and we are scraping unseen rocks below the surface and getting tossed in every direction. We can try to grab the branches that swipe us from the overgrown banks, or we can lean back and work with the movement of the water. We can lean into our fear and hold our balance until the water grows calm and steady again. We regain our bearings, but not quite yet. While we are tumbling down the river in this boat, the good news is already here.
This week is the celebration of the cross and resurrection. We can let go because he let go for us. He let go. He did not fight. He submitted himself to the ultimate descent, and he entered into hell. There is nowhere that we can go in this life that he has not gone already lower. But death could not hold him. In his descent, he crushed the doorway of descent and rose in triumph. He ascended into the highest place. And by faith, we are raised to new life with him. As we have walked through these dark weeks of Lent, of fasting, and of confession; in the letting go we are securely held. In opening our hands, we are filled to overflowing. In tracing the slow ascent of these songs, we resound with healing.
In the gospel, lament is not self-preoccupation. To pour out our sorrows before the feet of Jesus is not the same as self-pity, or theatrics. Self-pity leads us to a cycle of emptiness and addiction. It always needs to create more drama to sustain surface emotions. But as pastor Tim Keller has said, when you pray your tears you find that true lament leads to healing. There’s strength through the sorrow and onto the other side.
“Planting rows of sorrow, waiting for the harvest. Look and see how far we’ve come from where we started.”
Psalm 126: 5-6 proclaims this promise, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy.” As we prepare our hearts for Easter, let us shoulder our cross daily that we might reap the harvest of hope.
Suggestion for prayer: Ask God to bring to mind the seeds of sorrow in your life that he wants you to plant. Ask him to heal them and bring new life in those places. Where is the place within you where you need to let go? Pray your tears. Ask him to remind you of places where sorrow has turned to fruitfulness in your own story. Know the strength of his provision.
Listen to track 7 from Songs From The Valley, "Letting Go."