Sunday, February 26, 2012

Asking For It

Ah, the first Sunday of Lent. Like every Sunday, it is a “Mini-Easter,” a small glimpse into the most important feast of the Christian life, and an even smaller glimpse into our eternal homeland and final destination. Here’s hoping that for the last four days, you’ve stuck to your guns and have kept turned away from Facebook, have kept your hands on those Rosary beads, and have kept your mouth off of that can of pop. Here’s hoping that it’s hurt a little. Because if these sacrifices haven’t made you at least a bit uncomfortable, well then, they aren’t really sacrifices. If, in the middle of your trial, you have cried out to God saying that you can’t do it on your own, then you’re walking in the right direction. Get rid of something in your life so that God can take hold of your heart. You need to first conform before you can be transformed.

I've noticed that there are three "levels" of prayer that come about while partaking in the suffering that God has placed in our lives, including the suffering we experience during Lent. We can settle with the knee-jerk reaction: to complain, whine, and pray to God, asking Him to relieve us of the suffering. Hey, any prayer is better than no prayer. But that level falls short of redemption. Then there's the second level, where we say to God, "You know, if you have placed me here, then I'm supposed to be here. Fine." That's better. You understand that God must be trying to use the suffering as a teaching moment, and you roll with it. But the third level shows a great spiritual maturity - when you actually ask God to keep you in the midst of the suffering, not for masochistic reasons, but because you are trying to fully conform to His Will. A friend once said to me, "God doesn't give virtue. He teaches it." And it's true. No one suddenly wakes up one morning and says "Oh! Now I'm patient!" or "Oh goody. I am no longer selfish!" These virtues are cultivated by a lifelong commitment to God, and often that commitment involves learning about these virtues through suffering.

If God uses everything to work for our good (Romans 8:28), then that includes suffering. And if you come at suffering from the angle of knowing that you are supposed to be growing in holiness and virtue, then you will ask God to keep you in the midst of it until you have learned that lesson. You will feel the pain, the anguish, the sorrow, but will actually ask God to keep you there until you grow and become a better person. It can sound a tad depressing if you look at it without faith, but with faith, you see that God will walk with you into the fire of any trial, and when you have learned what He wants you to learn, He will lead you to the other side. Audrey Assad says it best in her song "Show Me":

Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and breathe me back to life
But not before You show me how to die.

We've only just begun the season of Lent. There will be a ton of opportunities to pray that prayer. Try it. Ask God to use His Goodness to bring you back to life, but let Him know that you want to die first.


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