I think that when things get overwhelming in life and the world, there is a three-prong approach that can be helpful for us to utilize. First, we need to give ourselves and those around us room to have our feelings. Second, we need a plan to begin to approach the things we can manage, and to let go of all of the things that we can’t. And the third prong is giving it all to God and Jesus, who intimately knows the suffering and temptations of this world and our lives.
As to giving ourselves and those around us room to have our feelings: My wonderfully imperfect parents did many things right and made plenty of mistakes when we were growing up (as they themselves would admit). When I was young, there wasn’t a lot of room for a complex variety of feelings in our household. We were mostly supposed to be happy, or at least act that way. Nowadays I believe it’s very important to try to give room for myself and others to have our feelings, even when they are messy and uncomfortable.
It can seem easier, in the face of our everyday struggles at home or in our local and national communities with their squabbling governmental bodies and school boards, or in our international community that has exploded with a war in Ukraine that is horrible in and of itself, but is also a reminder of the unrest and war and fighting in so many other places; it can seem easier to shut down. Or paste on a happy face as we try to paste on a false sense of control and power in our lives and this world. The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of this world and says that if Jesus will simply worship the master of illusion and deceit (that is the devil), all of this will be in his control.
Even as Jesus resisted this temptation to be a false master in false control, so we, too, with God’s help, must strive to reject efforts to falsely control what is out of our hands, instead learning to face the pain and struggles and build practices of life and faith that allow us to metabolize the travesties and struggles of our lives and this world. The cross is the place where the True Master of love, Jesus, meets every grief and struggle of this world and, striving by grace for the long haul, will bring about real healing, even as Jesus mourns and cries out with us in our pain. This process and practice of rejecting the temptation of false control in favor of allowing Christ – who also rejected this false control – to give us the courage to feel and to grow in faith for the long haul; this process and practice is literally applicable to every situation that can be thrown at us in our lives and this world.
Now, re-nestled, re-secured in the loving arms of Christ who feels alongside our feelings, we look with Christ’s help to be fed in real and lasting ways, and to contribute to Christ’s feeding of others. What is the plan that includes the things we can do – not out of a place of trying to control, but instead from a place that acknowledges our feelings and the feelings of others, and looks for tangible acts that we can do, empowered by the Holy Spirit. As the tagline of the national Lutheran Church says, “God’s work, Our Hands.”
Local New Paltz and Hudson Valley author and gardener Lee Reich reminds people that, long before the ground is ready outside for planting, or to be prepared for planting, there is much we can do to get ready. Repair trellises and poles that will later be used for training unwieldy green beans and butternut squash. Conduct a tool inventory and repair and replace where necessary. Create a planting plan, look through your seeds, and prepare for starting some seedlings indoors so they are ready to be transplanted outside and then provide a bounty of harvest in due time.
It can be tempting in the face of the needs and feelings of ourselves and this world to rush out and try to do everything, or to do the first thing put before us. The devil was right there when Jesus was at his hungriest (after fasting for forty days in the wilderness), offering Jesus a loaf of bread. Yet Jesus speaks one of the most quotable quotes in response to this temptation: “One does not live by bread alone.” In other words, let’s consider our planting plan. Let’s pray about which vegetables God is calling us to cultivate and double-check our tools. Let’s double-check that we are acting in concert with the Holy Spirit, not rushing out and rushing in as a result of our deep hunger.
It is this kind of work – God’s work through our hands – that I think leads people to do things like renting AirBNB’s in Ukraine that they never plan to use as a way to get funds into Ukrainian households desperate for food and funds; or contributing to the Red Cross or Lutheran Disaster Response. It’s this kind of work that brings us alongside Phillies Bridge Farm for food justice efforts, or has us partnering ecumenically for the Free Food Giveaway on Sunday afternoons. It’s this kind of work that helps us plan Peace Vigils and Vigils for Healing, such as we did with our Kol Hai Jewish siblings after the Tree of Life shooting.
Getting in touch with our real feelings as we resist the temptation for false control. Developing Holy Spirit fueled plans for the feeding of ourselves and this world rather than rushing in to grab the first loaf of bread offered. And giving this whole process, entrusting it all to God and Jesus is the third prong. Which is really the first and second and third prong. For we do not want to put God to the test by trying to pretend that we know what is needed. The Devil suggests that Jesus throw himself from the tower because after all, God will send angels to save you, Jesus. No, no, Jesus, says, do not put God to the test. In other words, let God be God, which for us as humans means let God be the beginning, middle, and end of every process. Let God be remembered as we awake, and remembered as we fall asleep, and remembered in every moment in between, even as we are re-membered (literally put back together) by Christ who suffered on the cross and was resurrected so that our struggles and pain would not be in vain or the end of the story.
Let God help us learn to embrace the fullness of our humanity, including the joys but yes also the discomfort of all of our feelings and sorrows. Let God help us learn to avoid false efforts to control, instead leaning into God’s guidance to discover amidst our feelings and the situations of these lives and this world the rich opportunities for serving God by helping others that will truly feed us and them. Most of all, let God be God and be seen and praised and followed in all dimensions of our lives and living, as we grow in trust and faith through the resurrection.
In writing and reflecting about the resurrection and Lent in her most recent Living Lutheran article, presiding bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), wrote that:
We are in a storm. In no way would I want to minimize nor silence the real pain experienced by… people. But I want to hold out the truth and the promise of God’s ultimate reset – the death and resurrection of Jesus. In this act of redemption, God has brought about the reconciliation of all people and all of creation.
(Living Lutheran, March 2022)
In the northeast United States, we are moving from winter to spring. The word Lent literally means “spring.” We are longing for the end of the winters of our lives and the winter of war and the winter of this world with all of its troubles. The times of temptation are not over. Now is not the time to be superficial or pretend that everything is ok. Yet as we acknowledge and perhaps even learn how to embrace all that is broken more deeply than we ever have before, we do so with Christ alongside us, Christ who is already working the new creation work of spring in this Lenten tide. Amen.