Be careful what you pray for

“Lent has summoned us to change our hearts…. But at the same time Lent has reminded us perhaps all too clearly of our own powerlessness to change our lives in any way.”

–Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration

I didn’t intend to take Lent off. On Ash Wednesday I attended a noon service and was struck that we recited Isaiah 58 in its entirety. Even more, I was struck by 58:10, which in the ESV is rendered, “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

This language of pouring out reminded me of the famous “hymn” in Philippians 2:5-11, with its imagery of Jesus emptying Himself or pouring Himself out by taking the form of a servant.

During the Ash Wednesday service I felt the Lord nudging me to focus on Isaiah 58 and Philippians 2 as my Lenten devotional. So I prayed, “Lord, teach me more about pouring myself out this Lent.”

Be careful what you pray for.

A few days later in early March, my wife and I received the devastating news of a miscarriage. Our third child, at 13 weeks, was called home to be with the Lord.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Sharing this news with our 4-year-old son was especially brutal, and managing my own grief while trying to help my child navigate his grief for the first time was a trial I don’t hope to repeat.

We were thankful for many mini-blessings that occurred in the midst of this pain, including my wife’s strong inclination to go with a midwife for this pregnancy instead of another hospital delivery. Friends and family were wonderful, too, and the tears flowed freely when we heard similar stories of loss from dear ones we’ve known for years but we’d never known they’d also walked this road. Miscarriage is the grief nobody talks about. Because what is there to say?

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

So yes, I’ve felt poured out this Lent, especially having come through multiple seasons of grief in the past decade: losing my dad, then my mom, then one of my best friends. When we lost our child, all the old rhythms and reelings returned: My energy was sapped. My head hurt. My chest and shoulders felt like there were weights hanging on them. I slept and slept but never felt rested. Just the mere fact that the symptoms of grief felt so familiar to me was itself a form of grief: Really? Again? How long can this go on? How much more loss can there be? 

We had been planning a family trip to Maryland for months, and we briefly considered calling off the trip. But we felt it would do us good to get out of the house, out of the office, out of the routine. Maryland is a place where both my wife and I spent considerable time as children, and there are many familiar faces and friendly places to visit between Annapolis and Baltimore.

Turns out that’s just where we needed to be. This trip was a perfect vacation for us, exactly what we needed as a family. We drove up 95 feeling foggy and dazed and worn out; by the time we were heading south on 95, we felt revived, rejuvenated. It was the only time in my life that I returned home from a vacation not feeling exhausted.

The Lord gave us a journey to walk when we didn’t know how to walk the journey we were on. There was purpose in taking my youngest son to his first baseball game, there was power in visiting the oldest synagogue in Baltimore and discovering my wife’s great-great grandparents probably worshipped there, there was promise in seeing the houses where we grew up and showing our kids glimpses of our own childhood.

We were swept up in the cloud of witnesses during this trip. Loved ones felt near and generations felt new.

So now we’ve come back home and come to Easter. And while there’s still more healing on the road ahead for us, it does feel like our own personal Lent has concluded. We rejoice in the power of the resurrection and what that means– not only for us, but also for our loved ones and particularly for the baby we haven’t met, who are all now enjoying being in the presence of the Lord.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Yes, we shall return to dust, but dust isn’t our end. Our God is a God who promises to make all things new, not all new things. Resurrection is where this journey is really headed, and we know that a flesh-and-blood reunion with our loved ones– and a fuller, truer union with our Creator– awaits us.

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