This is the post I wanted to start with yesterday. And then I felt like I was throwing up a Jesus smokescreen and cheating. So, I held back and wrote the messy, gritty one first. If you missed it and want to read it, you can find it here.
To be fair, this post is probably depressing, too. Jesus just happens to be a bigger figure in this post.
This year all that stuff felt empty, like a list of holy “shoulds” that I slightly resented. I’m trying to say “no” to the “I should” voice that leaves me with a sense of begrudging obligation.
So for this year, I said “no” to finding an Ash Wednesday service. “No, thank you,” to fasting. “No, thank you,” to finding something to give up. “No” to trying some new Lenten spiritual practice. Just “no.” No, I do not need to prove anything by my Lenten spirituality. This is not a game where we all stand up and compete for Lenten Achievement badges awarded by Jesus. I am enough. Love is given, not earned. I hope.
Walking away from “should-ing” myself gave me room to breathe.
Lent found me anyway. Whether it is in spite of my “no thank yous” or because of them, I have no idea.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy crept into my thoughts last Wednesday. No ashes required. The reminder of my fragility peppered my thoughts. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
In American culture, we’re pretty good at either entertaining that realization away, with our fascination with superheroes and the supernatural, or being so busy with our schedules and work that we don’t have time or space to face our mortality.
Having my mom die young forced me to realize, even as a kid, that death comes to all of us. Standing by her bedside as she breathed her last, I learned what death looks like. Death came to take my father-in-law in my early 20s. And walking through that process cemented my awareness of mortality. Humans are frail. Born into death, we are but a breath. Wildflowers quickly fading. Death awaits all of us, even as some of us hope for resurrection.
Before we get to that death where we breathe our last, little deaths occur in our journey, too. Dreams. Hopes. Stories. Relationships. We pack away things that we know we won’t or can’t accomplish. The life in some of those dreams, stories or relationships flickers out. At some point, we find it impossible to resuscitate at least a few of them.
We grieve them. They are losses. They wound us, leaving scars even after we heal.
We build cemeteries in our life story. Create markers for those things we choose to let go. The relationship that never turned out the way we wanted (even if that story turns out to be God’s grace). The job that ended badly. The talent we wished we possessed but don’t actually want to put in the work toward achieving. The limitations we can’t overcome. The failures in our journeys. The person we wished we were, but aren’t actually. Ideals that we’ve abandoned.
We let go, so we can continue living. We get tangled and tripped up in the ropes we hold, and we can’t hold all of the things forever.
To not let go makes us unable to move forward.
Laying on my mat at yoga Thursday, I realized that’s my problem right there. I keep dragging my heels on the adoption process because it means raising the headstone for dreams of biological children. It means choosing a different story. The problem isn’t that I don’t want to adopt. The problem is that I want all of the things, and, at least for me, in this place right now, I can’t hold all the things. They’ve got me tangled and stuck.
And in the back of my mind I knew it. It’s the elephant in the room that I wouldn’t permit myself to address — to myself or with others. I didn’t want to be cajoled or patronized or persuaded on the wonders of the adoption story. I know there’s life there. But, I didn’t want to bury the story of biological children. I’m more rebelliously strong-willed than I ever gave myself credit for being.
It’s like the worst part of the death ritual process: having to walk away from the open hole in the ground with the casket about to lower. The rituals are over. The funerals are complete. Now you go home and have to figure out normal life without the person. Reality and permanence sets in. It’s brutal.
And I stand here looking at the grave site of biological children shaking my head saying “No. No. No. I don’t want to walk away.” But, it is night. The sun has set. I have to go home. I have to leave the grave site at some point. I have to move on. Life keeps spinning on, even while part of me feels like it is slowly dying.
And what better season than Lent to start figuring some of this stuff out? After all, Lent focuses on learning to die to ourselves, so that we may live for Jesus.
Like other times when my world feels cracked open like an egg, Audrey Assad’s music helps. It’s always a different song. This time it’s her song Show Me. If you like, you can listen to the song on YouTube or download it from iTunes. Normally I’d post the YouTube video, but A) it’s just the music, no images and B) I got stumped on how to link to a video and have it show up on WordPress.
As I listen to it on repeat (I’m that girl who listens to songs on repeat. But, I’m convinced it’s genetic, since my dad is the same.), I find these words to be my prayer this Lent.
Bind up these broken bones
Mercy bend and breathe me back to life
But not before You show me how to die
Oh, not before You show me how to die
God, breathe me back to life, but not before You show me how to let this dream die.
And, that’s enough for today. More on that reverie later.