Did you hear the story of the little boy that wanted to share in Christ’s suffering? One Sunday he heard the preacher talking about Jesus’ walk to Golgotha. And he heard how Jesus’ walked the streets of stone. And he heard about the man who helped Jesus. Then the little boy went home and began to think. The next morning he picked up a small pebble (he WAS a small boy) and he put it in his shoe so that he too could walk with Jesus. Well, that story ends something like this: “And little Johnny walked for miles that day with that pebble in his shoe and he did it for God.”
I think this story is meant to illustrate the discipline we are called to for this season of Lent. However, I can’t help but wonder what kind of message such a story of intentional discomfort and pain communicates to all who desire to practice a life of disciplined devotion to God! To be a disciple must we live with a “No pain, no gain” mentality? Do we subscribe to a belief that to really love is to suffer? Or to suffer is to love more deeply? How frightening these kind of messages must be to new believers and non-believers who we are called to share the good news of God with – the gospel message that God is LOVE!
As a child I don’t remember actually “giving up” anything for Lent. Maybe I “gave up” chocolate or ice cream (or broccoli!). What I do remember as I got older are the random feelings of guilt for not really doing much of anything. What I’ve grown to understand is that this story tries to teach us about growing in our spiritual devotion and disciplines. But …if God is love, why should we suffer? Yes, Jesus himself sacrificed his life and suffered on the cross, but it wasn’t for the sake of suffering.
The truth behind some of those old church practices that we may have been taught is that in order to love completely, some suffering becomes inevitable. We should not seek suffering for the sake of suffering because we will likely encounter our own periods of sacrifice and suffering as we try, by the grace of God, to live out Christ-like love. How we can live though is to offer up to God the worries and trials that we will face in our pursuit to live out our Christian beliefs.
Lent is about that journey through the difficulties, beyond the suffering, to the satisfaction and hope of our solemn attempts to live our belief in the Easter promise. Is there something you can do for the remainder of this Lenten season to prepare for such promise? Whether you are “giving something up” (bitterness, a judgmental attitude, unhealthy diet, guilt, clutter, etc.) or “taking on something new”(new spiritual discipline, praying for your pastor, forgiveness, regular physical exercise, etc.) remind yourself that you are doing something for Easter, not for Lent. Whatever you do, do something that is a testimony to those you meet of your personal hope in God’s redeeming, precious love. What am I going to do? I’m going to work at getting these pebbles out of my shoes.
May you falter on the side of grace in this holy season.