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Love and Suffering: One in the Same

Image: Miguel Gascoj

This is the first time I can remember Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coinciding. This is interesting since both days commemorate love but in very different traditions. Valentine’s Day in modern times is marked by flowers, candy, greeting cards and dinners at your favorite eatery. You may recognize such names as FTD, Cadbury, Hallmark and Red Lobster. Some believe that Valentine’s Day was promoted to enhance the bottom line of these companies, but it’s still a nice distraction from the rather dark days of winter and an opportunity to show a little more love.

Ash Wednesday on the other hand, has been celebrated since the 11th century in the Christian church and has much deeper meaning than just fasting from sweets or meat. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent that it initiates is marked by love for God through repentance in those areas of our lives that are distractions to our relationships to the divine and to others who deserve and are longing for love.  

If we consider Jesus’s forty days of temptation in the wilderness that Lent commemorates, we discover the temptations focus on striving for success and security by means that are not stable or satisfying to our deepest needs and longings. Jesus is the Son of God who also was challenged by human cravings that He discovered and conquered while praying and fasting and living in the wilderness. Lent is our opportunity in some small way to emulate the suffering of Jesus before He embarked on the ministry that changed the world forever.  

Suffering is a condition that we like to avoid as much as possible. However, if we go a little deeper than giving up ice cream and soft drinks, we will discover our spirituality is suffering and the tempter’s mission is being completed.

Let’s consider one example that may lead to inappropriate desires: money. We all need it but here is what the apostle Paul told his pupil Timothy about money:  “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 NLT).

There are two keywords that indicate what we need to fast and pray about during Lent—longing and love. Whatever your desires in life may be, these two words define your relationship to them and to God. This one aspect of our lives can lead to many areas of suffering due to our longing for it and the false sense of love it promotes. This love of money gives rise to distractions such as “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these (Galatians 5:20-21a NLT). 

In this example we discover the multiple tools at the enemy’s disposal.  You may not be involved in all of these aspects of ungodliness but even one is enough to drive us away from God and the unfailing love that we so desperately crave. Jesus told us “to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matthew 6:31-33 Message).

Whether it is your tradition to receive the sign of the cross this Ash Wednesday marking the season of  mourning and mortality or not, pray for the grace to discover the deep desires that are hampering God’s unfailing love and provision for you. Give that desire to God as you pray and fast for Divine guidance to take you deeper into the Kingdom of God. May this Lenten season be a launch pad into new Kingdom relationships. 

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