Death, Lent, and The Valley of Suck


Indulge me for a moment...that is part of what “Fat Tuesday” is about right?

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent, a time of 40 days of reflection and repentance in the life of the Church. Don’t waste your time looking because you won’t find the word “lent” in the Bible nor a “season of Lent.” Jesus’ followers in the Church came up with the idea and it stuck. For good reason too. Left to our own devices, we’d rather not talk about mortality and sinfulness or the messy and icky things we face in life.

For a long time, I thought the same and watched and participated in a sort of modern-day “Oz” conducted in churches. Everything was honest and theologically sound but there was (and is) a curtain covering over what is going on but it isn’t the one you think. It isn’t the one church leaders are covering...it is the one BEHIND us. It is what is behind THAT curtain we’d rather not discuss…

In one word it is this...death.

I, like countless widows and widowers, have faced the loss of their true life partner. There are the countless sons and daughters who know the pain of the loss of not having a mother or father any longer or a mother or father who knows the emptiness of not hearing the unique laughter of their son or daughter. There are other losses and deaths to lead to the valley of suck. This valley of suck that robs us of so much joy, presents to us two new travelling companions, for life, ones often behind the curtain and in shadow.

Grief comes first followed by death. Of the two, grief is easiest to name but few understand how it remains a constant companion, popping up and surprising us through the rest of our lives. Death is the more complicated because we like to couch death, in other words, hiding it, ignoring it, trying to bury it even (pun intended).

We say that someone is “gone.” We’ll declare that God “took” someone. “Passed away,” “passed on,” and “fallen asleep,” are other phrases. They ease the pain some because they don’t sound so final but the truth is, behind it all, it is still death. And in this world, death is final.

On the road of the valley of suck, there are some able to make adjustments in the midst of the tragedy. The grief and death are the same for sure and adjustments can be made to face the changes. But it is not the same for all. For some, those complications are disruptions that fracture foundations, faith, families, and futures in ways no one can possibly know.

I didn’t.

There were many “deaths” before Heather died. The finality of her death also brought an avalanche of other “deaths” to our family, ones which changed the course of our family. The darkest days weren’t at Heather’s death, it was the year later when many of my friends were gone and I discovered two new companions eager to journey in the valley of suck with me: grief and death. I grieved the house getting emptier and the struggles my kids faced learning to live on their own. Death was right there reminding me of the dreams Heather and I had talked about that wasn’t going to happen now. I grieved how my plans for my ministry vocation had changed and death joined me as I began the process of burying the old aspirations.

I stopped trying to keep a curtain up in front of me (or church) and started taking down the curtain behind me and getting to know these two companions. I said goodbye to a full-time ministry, a term the apostle Paul never knew or wrote about, and accepted what dying to my prideful aspirations meant. I hate admitting that I grieved losing my pride and ego but death, again, companioned me. I worked as both a pastor at a church and on the floor at Dollar General. Six months later, I’m now full-time but serving two churches in another community. In less than a year, I’ve lived in 3 homes. I’ve said goodbye a whole lot.

And the more that I have come to focus less on maintaining a curtain in front of me, the more I find myself observing God and listening more intently to Jesus. Grief and death have helped me too. Today I began my Lenten practice by reading Matthew’s gospel and death met me there.

How?

Well, take a look at Matthew 1:18-25. Across the cultural divide of twenty-one centuries, Joseph has to deal with the discovery that his fiancee is bearing a child that is not his...yeah, people don’t handle that well. I don’t think I’m reading anything into this story when I say that Joseph faced the death of his expected family and those family plans.

But here is the thing...look back at 1:5-6. In just two verses we see a glimpse of history and that line of Joseph includes some interesting Grandmas and Grandpas and life that didn’t go as planned…

Rahab was a prostitute who gave birth to...
Boaz who married a widow named Ruth and in their descendants is...
David, who commits adultery with the wife Uriah (murders him too) and will continue the royal line through his son, Solomon.

God is not interested in respecting my plans: not for family nor for future. Is God indifferent? No, I think that goes too far. But God’s plan isn’t for my family or your’s...God’s interest is in making a bigger family for all people and making His house a place of prayer for all people. I’m thinking that maybe I’m starting to get that thanks to grief and death.



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