Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14
The season of Lent is thought by many to be a grim time. The focus is on what we give up, what we can’t have, consume or do. We give up something we enjoy during Lent as a spiritual discipline, and we all know that discipline is hard, unenjoyable, and bleak. We sacrifice now so that the celebration will be all that much more real when Easter comes.
Or is it? What if there is another way to look at Lent. What if, rather than being asked to give up something enjoyable we are being invited to leave behind something that is keeping us from attaining our goal, our calling, our destiny.
Not long ago I was awakened about 3:30 a.m. by the insistent snuffling of my German shepherd, Radar. I let him outside, gave him a treat, and ever so gently (but firmly) encouraged him to go back to sleep and not awaken me again until my alarm rang. It was in the early morning stillness that I took the opportunity to pray, focusing on God, accepting distracting thoughts as they came, then releasing them to return to focus on God. As frequently happens, my prayer began to come in images rather than words. (As an introvert, I believe in my heart of hearts that words are overrated.) I saw a huge, gray, medieval castle. The gate was closed, the drawbridge up. Something inside was threatened and needed protection! Nothing in, nothing out. Danger! Danger!
As I observed the foreboding scene, I realized the castle walls were not made of stones and mortar, but rather of all that I use to protect myself from, well - everything. I surround myself with things to protect myself from not having enough, not being enough. My things don’t threaten me like people can. My things don’t let me down like people have in the past and may in the future. And if they do, I buy newer, better things. My things protect me from the uncertainty of both the present and the future. My things are my most immediate help in times of danger or need.
I surround myself with a wall of invulnerability and hide where painful memories and uncomfortable relationships can’t affect me. Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names – and people – will never hurt me! In the words of a favorite Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a rock, I am an island, and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries!”
As you can well imagine, sweet dreams are NOT made of these! I became more and more uneasy as my gaze travelled across the castle walls. Then, at the top of the wall a tiny gate opened. A narrow set of stairs appeared as a way down the castle wall. A tiny, luminescent being stepped through the gate and, slowly, ever so carefully, began to descend the stairs. The point of view of the dream changed, and I was not watching someone on the stairway, I was on the stairway, hugging the walls, afraid I was going to fall. Still, I inched my way downward. I didn’t know what was ahead, but going back behind the walls was not an option.
One final step and I was on the ground, running down a forest path. I raised my eyes and ahead of me was an unimaginably warm, shimmering light. As the light enveloped me, I awakened.
As I lay there in the predawn light I remembered a time a few years ago when I stood beside the bed of a hospice patient. One of the many things my patients have taught me over the past twenty-two years is that heaven is not somewhere far, far off in the sky. It is as close as the other side of a doorway.
Occasionally one of my patients is able to talk to those of us at the bedside and tell us just a little of what he or she is experiencing. I explained to the family that this sometimes happens, and a family member said, “George, if you are seeing something you’d better tell us what it is!” And George responded, “It’s so beautiful I can’t even put it into words!” And with that he gently laid aside everything that was holding him back, took one tiny step, and attained his goal.
Maybe, just maybe, God was showing me through my dream that that step doesn’t have to wait till my deathbed. Maybe God was inviting me to put aside my supposed protections (which, in the final analysis, protect me from nothing), forget what lies behind, strain toward what lies ahead, and step into the light.
Maybe Lent is a time to do just that.
Posted on Wed, March 15, 2017
by Micah James