Lent is a time when we “fast before we feast.” It’s a time when we are invited to spend forty days opening ourselves to God’s presence and to “sit in the ashes” for awhile.
In his book, Everyday Greatness, Stephen R. Covey tries to understand why some people struggle when adversity, failure, or loss strikes while others persevere. And, while adaptable people do not dismiss the hurt, pain, and loss without a struggle, they develop coping strategies that mourn losses while learning how to adapt and to live with them. Though shaken to their core, adaptable people find the inner strength to pick up the pieces left behind after the storms of life rage. Even in the midst of their own pain, adaptable people find the courage to move forward in the face of shattered dreams and dashed hopes. In many ways, people who persevere have developed the habit of harnessing the power of mourning to deepen their relationship with God. Cultivating a deep and intimate relationship with God is sometimes all that we have to hang onto when life seems so out of control. Our God, a covenant God, journeys with us even during the darkest valleys of life and always sees us for who we truly are, God’s beloved children.
Adaptable people, notes Covey, are like the small maple trees who one day find strands of barbed wire being hammered into their tender bark. Some growing trees fight and resist the intrusion of barbed metal, while other trees learn to adapt as they grow by incorporating the barbed wire into the bark of the tree. The maples that resisted the intrusion of barbed wire became disfigured and twisted as they grew instead of becoming the master of the wire.
We can learn a lot from the young maple trees that have adapted to adversity. When adversity strikes we always have a choice. We can choose to become angry, to hold on to perceived hurts and wrongs, and to seek out scapegoats. We also have another choice. When the storms of life rage we can let the pain twist us and distort us into embittered caricatures of ourselves or we can choose to move forward. We can choose to let go of our grudges. We can choose to be kind to ourselves; especially when our own human frailty or our own stupidity brought about the trials we endure. Ultimately, the choice is ours to make. We can use adversity as an excuse to retreat into self-made prisons of blame, anger, and remorse or we can choose to respond in ways that, while not minimizing or negating the pain of what may have happened to us, rejects revenge, jettisons anger, and summons the courage to forgive.
Yet, the fact remains that forgiveness is hard work. Our pain and our loss is real. We know it all too well. That is why during Lent we are invited to carry our pain, anger, suffering, and brokenness to the cross, to the place where death is transformed into life.
Jon Brudvig is Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.