I have to confess something. I was afraid to observe Lent. Coming on the heels of my pursuit of delight (you can read that post here – Softening and Delight), Lent seemed a logical contradiction. Also, there’s that whole fear of failing thing.
But I’m beginning to understand that maybe denying self IS delight. Maybe suffering IS softening.
Three weeks, now, into Lent. Three weeks of nothing sweet. At first I felt my choice of fasting from sweets was cliche’, and I cringe at the thought of being cliche’. I chose to give up anything sweet to the tongue because I knew it would be a challenge for me. To fully recognize the impact of self denial we have to deny something we will truly miss. This verse was another inspiration for my choice of fasting from sweets:
I wanted to fast from what is sweet to the tongue and focus on what is sweet to the soul.
The first few days were more difficult than I expected. And you know how ‘they’ say after a few days your craving for sweets goes away? Wrong. Three weeks in and I’m dreaming of sweet cinnamony chai tea lattes, among other things.
As I was dwelling on my lack the other day, and maybe feeling a little self pity too, the Holy Spirit brought a verse to mind.
“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
For the joy set before Him.
Jesus could see the joy waiting for Him on the other side of the cross. Jesus set His mind on the joy that was ahead of Him. Joy enabled Jesus to endure.
There is absolutely no comparison between abstaining from sweets and dying on a cross, but I’m beginning to discern a life principle in the midst of it all.
Jesus’ 33 years of human life leading up to His death on the cross were anything but delightful, circumstantially speaking. He was by no means rich, despised by His brothers and many others, God bound by flesh, tempted as we are, persecuted, rejected, killed. Yet it was joy all along. It was joy that sustained Him as He was beaten and ridiculed. It was joy that helped the Son endure the separation and wrath of His Father for the sake of sinful humanity. It was focusing on the final outcome that mingled in delight with the sorrow. The future promise made the present bearable.
I suppose this is true of any suffering great or small; from not eating sweets, to severe health issues, to financial difficulties, to persecution – fill in your own blank___________. We don’t even need examples to understand what suffering is.
But what if the mingling of delight in with the sorrow is possible for us too? I think it is! In many ways, we know the outcome just as Jesus did! We know, or at least can know by studying the Word, what the future holds. We know of new bodies and tears wiped away. We know of a new name and an end to pain. We know of growth into the likeness of Christ and the reward of crowns because of the Life of Christ in us. We know all this and so much more!
I also know that Resurrection Day is coming – woo hoo! And I’ll get to enjoy some tasty treats, yum! My mind is shifting from what I don’t have now to what I will have in the near future. And it’s making the lack a little more delightful. It’s softening my heart to the goodness of God and the miraculous Life of His Son.
Suffering and self-denial never have to be purposeless. Viewed in light of Christ’s joy-empowered suffering and surrendered to His molding, our suffering will produce more in us than a life of ease ever could.
A soft heart is a vulnerable heart, even willing to receive the faithful yet painful strokes of the Artist. Yes, we are but dust, but this dust-clay has nerve endings and thin skin, fatigue and fears, blood and tears. Jesus did too. He knows the pain and He showed us the way through it.
“Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they my unite my heart more closely with thee.” ~ Susanna Wesley
These are the words of a softening heart. A heart of delight in the midst of sorrow.
I don’t think there’s any earthly endeavor in which we can’t Aim at Heaven. I pray that we all learn to have this perspective as we travel this sod. If you’d like to be kept informed of new Aiming at Heaven posts, you can subscribe via email below.
May you grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.