suffering through the spring
I wonder what this title evoked in you readers... I know my husband would sardonically think, "Allergies." The big challenge to all of our lives these days is the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's affecting us all differently. Some are busier, some are bored; some will be glad to be free of a noisy household, others are lonely. It's feast or famine. Younger folks might associate the stress of final exams or final papers with this title. Over the years, I've come to realize just how much suffering surrounds the spring holidays as well: Mother's Day, Memorial Day, and Father's Day. In my inner circle of friends and family, I've seen these "holidays" evoke memories of abandonment, infertility, death of a parent, death of a child, exhaustion from too many family obligations, disappointing relationships, chronic illness and pain, years of hurt, and in some cases, abuse.
Memorial Day is the most obviously and unilaterally difficult. The pain is so great, even when one has the luxury of being personally removed, that we find ourselves asking why. Why must this be? No one should ever have to endure losing a son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, or sibling, or friend in warfare. One look at a photo of Arlington, and I'm about done for. When we consider the selflessness of this sacrifice, it is overwhelming. It's not quite so simple, but in a sense, someone died so I could have my barbecue in peace. When I meditate on this even for a moment, I feel viscerally as though my heart is bleeding and breaking.
I had this feeling as a child too, learning about Abraham and Isaac. I breezily accepted all manner of difficult stories from the Bible growing up, but this one, I remember thinking, "WHAT???" I was incredulous. What on earth might God be doing? Why play with them? It seemed so mean! There simply must be another way to test Abraham's faith. This did not seem to fit into the loving shepherd painting we had hanging in our hall.
I've grown to the understanding that is the exact reaction we ought to have. What? NO! That is too much to ask. That is cruel and he doesn't deserve it! Isn't there another way? How horrible!
Yes. How horrible.
If you're like me, you memorized John 3:16 as a child. I said it in a sing-songy rhythm. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. John threeeee, six, teen." It became commonplace. But waking up to the complexities of adulthood and allowing the Holy Spirit's leading, the fact of God sending His only Son to take the punishment of death for you, in particular, and for me, in particular, is just too much to fathom. He didn't deserve it. It was horrible. There was no other way to save us from what we indeed deserve. And He did it out of love for you and me, willingly.
Rick and I have talked at times about shifting political alignments and associations, especially where it involves evangelical Christians and the military. One past member of his unit, an atheist, was incensed that there would be any crossover between the two, and vociferously complained about even the most general Christian reference. As someone who has never felt an interest or call to government and policy making, and as someone who is concerned with classic religious freedom as outlined by our Constitution, and not one to conflate the love of my country with a religious experience, I think the overlap is too significant to pretend it doesn't exist. No other god, tradition, or religion upholds the example of self sacrifice for others as Christ does. Other religions might focus on ethics and/or the greater good, to some extent, but at the heart, other traditions focus on simply being able to cope with the world. God calls us to more.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. There is indeed no greater sacrifice, than for a man to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
Here is a tribute by members of the U.S. Army Band, which includes the Brass Quintet and some historic footage as well.
As far as Mother's Day and Father's Day, I think some of us have had the experience that our mothers and fathers gave us our first introduction to what the love of God is. If I were to write tributes to my parents, we'd be here all day. (Although I must add that my mother always tried to get me to learn organ and conducting, to which I rebelled. Awkwardly going back now at middle age and doing what my mom told me to do in the first place... Kids, listen to your moms!)
For some of us, relationships with our parents are more complicated; for still others, perhaps our parents' inadequacies or errors made us understand all too well that there is only one perfect Father.
I would like to turn our attention to Henri Nouwen's discussion of the Prodigal Son story in his short book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. He outlines his own journey to the understanding that we are all both of the brothers at times, but the Father is the likeness to which we should all aspire. We are all the ones who messed up at some point; we are all frustrated and self-righteous when things seem unfair to us; but knowing and experiencing all of this, we are to mature into someone who has been well-loved by our Heavenly Father, and in turn attend to our responsibilities with grace, justice, and love. That is the whole parent gig. The young are parented, and one day, must learn to parent themselves. In so doing, we acknowledge the enormity of Christ's sacrifice for us, and rightly steward what He has given us.
I was the biggest overachiever while I was expecting Laura--I did not have one drop of caffeine, one remotely unhealthy food, one medication... I stayed physically active, listened to (and played) Mozart, and read stories to my swelling belly. It was my joy to do so. I'd still do anything for her and her family.
For myself, I care much less. There's always tomorrow to get in shape, prioritize sleep, or start eating better. If I could see myself as the Father does, I would have to acknowledge the price at which I was bought, and start to "parent" myself through His eyes. His love is truly perfect, in the way I wanted to give it to my child. He who did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for all, will He not with Him freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)
Years ago, a close friend sought counseling about a pain and frustration in her life. After many weeks of gentle counsel, the counselor said, "Another thing just to think about is contentment." Well. She was LIVID. How can someone who has not experienced this dare say to be content!?
You know how desperate parents always try to redirect their children's attention to something that's good? If they're small, perhaps with a toy, if they're older, perhaps a discussion of perspective. Parents know that passing difficulties are not the big picture. As we seek to leave behind childhood things (1 Cor. 13:11), and think God's thoughts toward ourselves, I'd gently encourage you all to parent yourselves through life's inevitable pain and disappointments. Consider contentment. Direct your attention to the good, the true, and the beautiful. (Phil. 4:8) Know that in the exact way you've always needed to be loved, the way you want to love your children, God is advocating for YOU that way.
The end of the story for my friend is that she came to realize the wisdom of those words, and has since been blessed beautifully with answered prayers and depth of wisdom.
I took a walk this blue crystal day, full of giant puffy clouds lazily moving across the sky, sun kissed warmth, birds singing, and the smell of flowers on the air. At some point, a glorious circling wind blew all the dandelion cottons around, and for a good couple minutes, I was surrounded by their delightful swirling. God didn't have to make the world beautiful, but He did, out of an unfailing love for us.
For those suffering this spring, know our prayers go with you. Know He loves you beyond compare, and wants to hold you through your pain. For all of us, take a moment to parent yourselves with nurture and encouragement that we learn from our perfect Father.
It is Well. Spafford, 1873. The choir of CtK.
special music offering: the prayer
Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Director of Music and Worship, Christ the King Church Parish