LENTEN CONNECTIONS: Staying with the Story

I love a good story.  Whether it is told in a novel, a movie, or a long conversation, I am drawn into stories.  But I have noticed that I tend to make one requirement:  a good story has to have a happy ending.  I can sit through a suspense-filled movie or enjoy a good tear-jerker if I have confidence that it will all come right in the end.  But the story I tell myself (yes, we do tell ourselves stories!) during a movie or a novel is very much like the story I tell myself when I ride a roller coaster with my thrill-seeking son, “Just close your eyes and hold your breath.  It will all be over soon.”  When the music changes or the chapter ends, I can exhale and fully engage again with what is going on.

As Christians, we know how the story ends.  When we read the Easter story, we know that Jesus will rise from the dead (Amen!).  We also know He will return for us one day (Acts 1:11).  As the old hymn says, what a blessed assurance! But what about the here and now?

Lent, this season of unflinching reflection on the realities of sin, frailty and sacrifice, encourages me to refine my narrative.  I’m challenged to open my eyes during the scary parts and to breathe deeply despite the discomfort.  Yes, one day every tear will be wiped from our eyes and all will be set right (Rev 21:3-5), but today we live in a world where trouble abounds (John 16:33).  Even this week, I mourned with a friend as she grieves the loss of a baby and learned of another family living out the agony of a loved one gone too soon.

When I shut my eyes and just try to hold on ’til the good part comes, I reveal the weakness of my own faith.  Yes, I trust God’s promise that the story will end well, but do I trust Him to be my strength and comfort and guide in the midst of the difficult realities of life?

I look at Jesus in the garden, and I am overwhelmed by His honesty.  Even though He knew that there was a happy ending coming, He experienced deep anguish and sorrow.  He did not put on a brave face in case there were unbelievers watching.  He did not comfort Himself with platitudes (“Just wait til the third day. . .  it will all be over soon”).  He kept His eyes wide open, breathed deeply of the pain of the moment, and cried out to His Father (Matthew 26:36-45).

The assurance of a happy ending does matter.  The Bible tells us that it was “for the joy set before Him” that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2).  Nevertheless, the story of Jesus includes both the anguish in the garden and the joy of resurrection.  During this season, I am encouraged to slow down and look deeply at the whole story, which includes my story and the stories around me, rather than rush through the tough stuff to get to the good part.  God is the author of it all.

A Lenten prayer:

God of such unwavering love,
how do I “celebrate”
the passion and death of Jesus?
I often want to look the other way
and not watch,
not stay with Jesus in his suffering.
Give me the strength
to see his love with honesty and compassion
and to feel deeply
your own forgiveness and mercy for me.
Help me to understand
how to “celebrate” this Easter.

Blessed Assurance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PBytSZHR48

Contributed by Kim Grant