Last week I attended my first Ash Wednesday service. Growing up in a protestant church all my life, I am not in the loop on many liturgical practices, but over the last few years I have had friends who participate in the Lenten season. Their experiences made me interested and curious, and one year Noah and I actually did practice “giving up” something during this time. But the Ash Wednesday service was still foreign to me.
I remember another friend of mine mentioning she wanted to go to one this year, and so I messaged her and found out the time and place, and gave it a go. It was beautiful.
A bunch of protestant churches in our community combined to have a service at lunch time. The church was one of the older, formal-looking churches on one of the main avenues in our city. I found my way inside, just in time, and got comfortable, right before I began to get uncomfortable.
But it wasn’t the ashes, or the local reporter snapping pictures, that had me unnerved. The service was lovely, with singing, and very clear instructions on when people would be standing, what they would be saying, and the words to the songs. A local minister spoke about how the ashes remind us of our mortality, and of the cross, and the salvation offered to us. She said it reminds us of our anticipation of returning to dust, when we will be with Christ forever. It was precisely what I needed.
During the service however, there were passages of scripture read. And sometimes when I hear scripture read by someone else, it just comes at me in a new and different way. That’s what got me.
The scripture was from Isaiah 53:1-12 and 1 Peter 1:3-9. The scripture from Peter read, in part,
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Greatly rejoicing, even when suffering all kinds of trials? And there is a reason for these trials?
It is so hard for me to see the good in trials. 2015 was a kind of a tough year, and I anticipated 2016, excited to see what it would hold. We are on the upswing. But truthfully, it doesn’t feel like the upswing.
Many people around me are hurting deeply – some physically, some in all other sorts of ways. And my heart hurts as well – sometimes due to empathy and compassion, other times for selfish reasons.
I don’t want to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. I don’t want to go through a refining fire, and I don’t want that for my people. I like comfort, and I will work hard to avoid anything that takes that away. If I must go through something that I know will feel a little prickly, I dread it for days in advance. And during the reading of this Scripture, here is what I came to realize:
I have worshipped comfort instead of the Comforter.
After some tears and some soul-searching, I realized the root of my problem is putting too much stock in this life. Even in the scripture we just read, it says, “though now for a little while.” This life is so teeny-tiny compared to eternity; yet I find myself repeatedly looking at situations through eyes that only see the here and now. If I could learn to look at each circumstance in relation to forever, realizing what is happening now is only temporary, only for a little while, I could get my knickers out of a twist.
My comfort is not supposed to be my goal. Serving, loving, giving, caring – all the things that focus on others – my heart knows these are the most important. Sharing God with the hurting around me. But it is so easy for me to forget that, and focus on myself way too much.
For when we are sinking under the weight of the struggle, here a few tips that might help us:
1. When going through a hard time, accept the help and prayers that are offered. Sometimes it’s tempting to withdraw from people when difficult times happen, but don’t. God gave us the beautiful gift of community. If you have friends who will pray for you, or listen to you as you sort things out, you are blessed. Don’t waste that.
2. Look for the bigger picture – Is there some way this situation can point someone to Jesus? If so, it is worth it.
3. When I’m facing a tough situation, I need to look for the best way to let God work and be seen. If it’s through worshipping Him even in the dark and scary, then I will do it. If it is keeping an eye out for a lesson to learn and ways to grow my faith, then that’s what I need to do.
In Scripture, the apostle Paul, who suffered way more than I ever have, had this take on suffering:
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Good things can come from tough situations. Let’s look for them.