Lenting it out

by - March 05, 2014

Hellebores, "Lenten Rose"

It's the season of Lent, so the hellebores in the garden tell me, and I'm giving up my determination to be uncomfortable with the person of Jesus. Let me clarify - Jesus should make me uncomfortable in that his life and his love compel me to be transformed, but the kind of discomfort I have felt for so long was of feeling like I didn't belong in his company. I found it much easier to reflect on and reach out to God the Father than Son of God. On some level it had been easier to worship an invisible God than a tangible Jesus.

I know when these feelings began. My introduction to Jesus was likely in songs and blue-sashed figurines on felt boards in Sunday school. At the age of seven, I remember asking Jesus into my heart, and being excited to tell the kids at school about him - especially this one kid who, based on his behavior, I figured really needed Jesus. But it was during a junior high mission trip that I first felt something fracture.

It was the heels of an emotionally sweeping prayer at the end of a particularly moving sermon on repentance that we were told to stand up and shout, "I want the cross!" if we wanted to give our lives to Jesus. Now Jesus already had my life, and being a stoic child who cringed at the hand motions to songs, I was like a deer in headlights. As pre-teen after pre-teen leapt to their feet, I finally rose caving to the pressure and not wanting to look like I was un-choosing Jesus. I quietly mumbled, "I want the cross." That moment of inauthenticity set the wheels in motion to my belief that there was an accepted and expected emotional response to Jesus that people who truly loved him should have. It was to be emphatic and unashamed. I was reserved and self-aware. By the measure of my response, I had left Jesus hanging there on the cross.

This memory of the shame I felt in that moment is vivid in my mind. I let the idea creep in that I didn't and couldn't have true affection for Jesus. Amazingly, it is only now, twenty years later that I'm am looking back and recognizing the part this played in shaping my journey with him. Don't get me wrong, I felt deep affection for God and gratitude for and conection to the sacrifice of his son, but Jesus was a way to God, the reconciliation, the person I was to worship through.

By the time I was in college, the person of Jesus elicited feelings I didn't know how to handle. Reading the Bible, I struggled to see him as fully human and fully God. I placed human limitations on his emotions and love, and viewed myself as I thought he should see me (as a spoiled brat) rather than how he truly did (as a beloved daughter). Reading scripture, I interpreted his actions as if they were from typical human motives. I didn't know why he was so hard on the Pharisees or why he turned over the tables in the temple. This seemed angry and intentionally provocative. I didn't understand why he let Lazarus die before healing him or why he used spit to make mud to put in the blind man's eyes - that seemed gross and unnecessary. I couldn't understand why he'd tell those who would follow him they must hate their own family or give up all their wealth. It seemed like he was putting up boundaries between himself and them and turning people away. I couldn't begin to imagine the horror of the lady who had been bleeding for years, when Jesus called her out in the crowd. Looking back, I think I was projecting my own feelings of shame and disconnect on their interactions with him. Jesus said in John 10:30, "I and the Father are one", but I had decided that God would be the one I'd rather interact with. I didn't know what to make of the boldness of his life on the pages of scripture and the boldness and assurance with which his followers used his name.

At some point, I had to reconcile the words of Jesus in John 14:7, "If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." I couldn't know and love one and remain distant towards the other - they were one. Jesus's life showed me the heart of the Father, and likewise the heart of the Father helped me better see Jesus. Learning more about those stories and the symbolism behind what he did showed that everything He did was to love, to set free and to point to the glory of God. I learned that His anger towards the Pharisees didn't stem from hatred of them but love for his people and hatred for false worship or keeping his people from worshipping him. I learned that he called out the bleeding lady, because her life was already a horror, and he was publicly declaring her clean.

Jesus loved those who were reserved too. I read about a Jesus who met with Nicodemus at night, in the dark, patiently answering his questions. I saw a welcoming Jesus who called out Zacchaeus as he caught glimpse from a distance, likely reflective of the distance he felt from the crowds. I read of a Jesus who met with a woman at a well as she was alone and ostracized, and he explained to her "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." I read of a Jesus who for years worked through the doubts of his own disciples, carefully laying out the gospel for them in story after story as he stretched open their hearts and minds. Jesus won people over in crowds, alone in the dark, over dinner, in deep intellectual conversation, in healing, in miracles. He won them with truth, with love, with mercy, not guilt or emotional manipulation or not with an implied shout it now or you don't mean it.

I'm learning that Jesus has the love of the Father for me. He wasn't giving me the side eye or disappointed that time I hesitated in junior high. In fact, he didn't even place that on me. That was of man. He's okay with my not being much of an enthusiastic Peter or a doting Mary. His life and words weren't lived and spoken to shame me with unattainable standards but rather to be my substitute and show me my desperate need for him while offering forgiveness and grace. God has also lifted Him up, so that I worship him.  From Phillipians 2, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

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