You punish yourself because you don’t believe that you are worthy of God’s grace and forgiveness. You kid yourself or try to delude yourself that you are okay. You keep busy doing good so you don’t have to feel. You do good, or else you will be punished. You put up boundaries to keep the hurt out but instead it keeps the hurt in like a box of razors. You feel sorry for yourself. Nobody would care if you lived or died. God is just like your angry parent, shaking their finger at you. You might earn that forgiveness yet, this Lent. Discipline, sacrifice, fasting, punishment, you understand- kind of. Contemplating that God might actually love your sorry ass, well that is completely foreign to you, isn’t it?
Of course, this is just your problem. No one else sees or suffers because you cannot receive or give love, right? No one knows just how much you hate yourself. You feel ugly inside because you are ugly inside. Your teeth are white, you are in the best shape of your life, but it is a whitewash tomb. If everyone knew just how sad you really were, they would just tell you to go kill yourself or to go away. At the same time, you are so lonely. So very lonely.
If someone would just touch you, that would be nice, but you would shy away. You are desperate, but you don’t want anyone to know that you are desperate. Don’t pity me! You say, but you are pitiful. This Lent, this year you will earn Jesus’ love. Mommy and Daddy will finally forgive you, and love you, and keep you safe like they should have, but they didn’t.
Maybe these rituals will help you with this hollowness, emptiness, this utter failure that is your life. You know your life is a failure- no matter what everyone else tells you. You don’t even cry about it anymore because you feel so powerless. It is futile to even get upset. You don’t even want to cry out about it because it is whiney and because you think that God wants you to suffer through this. Somehow, this is as good as it gets for you. Heck, you are just lucky that God doesn’t do something worse to you. If you could just figure out what you did, you would say you were sorry. You have been sorry for so long.
So here you are. You have been here before. It is habit. You have heard the story. The question is do you believe it? Is it just so hard to believe that maybe God created you in God’s image? Is it possible that you could be the image of God? Could you possibly be beautiful like a sunset? Could you be an elegant reminder of one who creates, watches, loves and waits for the world’s reply? Does God really see and feel everything in your heart? Does he know the truth about you?
You have heard the story year after year. Logically, somehow you agree that God must love us. Jesus dies on the cross to prove it. You hear others talk about that amazing grace. It is like watching everyone else dance at the prom, but you don’t have a date. You smile. You say: “Isn’t this fun? Oh no, you guys go on ahead, I just like to watch.” Deep down, you want to dance, but who would want to dance with you?
Can you imagine that God loves you and wants you to know? Can you contemplate that? Instead are you going to read 1st and 2nd Chronicles because those books of the Bible seem particularly penitential? Perhaps you will walk the Via Dolorosa, contemplating Jesus’ broken body, but can you contemplate that he loves you? Are you part of this salvation story or are you just watching?
For you (and you know who you are), I put forth this image for Lent: Jesus looks down from the cross at the sea of humanity, salvation to all he sees. He sees you. He knows you. He loves you.
Do you even know what that really means? Have you ever loved anyone that much? Has anyone ever loved you that much? I am guessing that the answer is no.
So, now what? Can you open yourself to him? Will you acknowledge that he is all ready there waiting for you? Are you ready for him? Are you ready to be loved and to love like never before? Can you contemplate that?
I know that I will try every day. I will try every day this Lent to contemplate that God can and does love me even when I don’t love myself, even when I am not sure I can believe it. I will contemplate that Jesus’ saving work was not just for the world but for me. I will contemplate that God can do anything. I will contemplate that God can redeem me. I will be moved by that Grace. I believe that you will be also. I hope that you will contemplate this with me this Lent.