Blessed Ash Wednesday!
Here's a little known fact about me: I was baptized Catholic, and raised with at least a somewhat Catholic sensibility for much of my early life.
My mom came from a family that was a mix of Mormons and Catholics (My grandmother was raised Mormon, and my grandfather was a from a very devout Hispanic Catholic family, and my grandma converted to the Catholic faith to marry him). My mom and her brothers were all raised Catholic, though with the mix of heritage in the family, I think there was also a certain degree of religious open-mindedness encouraged. Currently, I believe my one aunt is a Jesuit, and my other aunt and uncle are pretty strong Catholics. My dad, while I believe he is currently agnostic, grew up attending Baptist youth group. Before I accepted Christ in high school, I dabbled in Buddhism and Wicca before making a confession of faith in Christ, and I started my walk of faith attending a non-denominational church. Now we attend the Southern Baptist church my husband's family populates (literally-- there's a ton of us in the membership). So I'm lucky to have a religious background that is very open to exploration and experimentation.
But despite having had a somewhat Catholic worldview early on, I was never confirmed, nor was I active enough in the church to get a good grasp on yearly traditions like Lent. I mostly just enjoyed staring at the pretty stained glass and praying my simple prayers while kneeling on the padded bar while my mom went up to receive communion.
Anyway, the purpose of this less-brief-than-I-intended bio was just to demonstrate why I have never really gotten involved in the practice of observing Lent. By the time I got into a church that actually seemed to acknowledge its existence, I was in my twenties and most of my faith habits had been cemented, for better or worse. So today I clicked on a link my friend Jordan had put up on his Facebook page and it took me to his personal blog, where he discussed Lent and the desire to take a communal focus on his observation of Lent by reading through a Lent study and meditating and sharing his thoughts on the lessons. Frankly, it inspired me.
Obviously, I'm not a hugely regular blogger, especially lately, since Big Boy phased out his naptime, so I don't pretend to believe this will be a daily thing, but I'd really like to try and join him in going through this study and delving into the tradition of Lent. So I am going to commit to blogging once a week with thoughts and reflections on the readings of the Lent ForEveryone devotional by N.T. Wright (You can find it in the topical reading plans on YouVersion Bible App if you're interested in joining!)
Anyway, the reading today was for Matthew 1 and 2, wherein it discusses the lineage of Jesus and Joseph's reaction to Mary's announcement of immaculate conception, and his subsequent obedience to God's leading for his and his wife and son's lives. The following ideas struck me as I read through the devotion, the readings, and through my friend Jordan's blog post.
As a mother, one of the most frequent things I find myself getting irritated with my 2-year old daughter over is “wasting time”. I am constantly urging her to “hurry up” when she's eating, going to the bathroom, dawdling while we're trying to get ready to go pick up Big Boy from the bus, and even getting ready to do a craft. I have a very Type A personality when it comes to my time: it is precious to me, and if it is being wasted (i.e. being spent on things that do not produce tangible results) I get upset.
Consequently, I am not very good at “waiting on the Lord”. Even Bible study, prayer, and meditation often strike me as wasted time because “I could be doing dishes while I pray”, or “I don't have time to sit and read when dinner still needs to be defrosted”. I forget to focus on the eternal results that come from a life dedicated to God and His work, and instead only grudgingly give the bare minimum to God because there are so many seemingly more pressing matters to attend to. Similarly, I also very rarely stop and prayerfully consider decisions before acting (I don't think I can really count a quickly-scribbled pros-and-cons list “prayerful consideration.”).
But Jordan pointed out an important point about today's reading: in Matthew 1, verses 19-20 state that Joseph “resolved to divorce her quietly” and that he “considered these things”, at least long enough to sleep on them, when God took the opportunity provided by Joseph's patient delay in action to provide him with guidance regarding the wife and child he was to become responsible for. In fact, you could say it was Joseph's delay in reacting to the situation that made him a prominent figure in history. If he had gone with his gut instinct and just stormed off after Mary broke the news, not only would he have missed out on the opportunity to help raise the Messiah, but he could also have prevented God's plan for salvation through His only Son, at least for this instance. The punishment for infidelity is clearly stated in the Old Testament: death by stoning. Had Joseph failed to stop and reflect, and instead reacted with whatever storm of anger and betrayal surely overtook him upon first hearing Mary's strange story, he likely would have outted her to the community at large and perhaps set in motions events that would have led to Mary's death and the death of the baby Jesus growing within her. Could God have saved them both from such a sentence? Surely He could, but Joseph might have lost his chance to be a part of that timeless story. That's definitely something to think about.
As a sidenote, we are reaching that point during the year when we usually have a lot of big decisions to make (living arrangements, family vacations, financial decisions, etc.), so this was a very timely subject for me to ponder right now. Thanks Jordan!
As I stated earlier, my family growing up was pretty non-traditional and flexible with religion, and that extended to gender roles. My mom typically made more money than my dad did, and though she was very involved in our schools when we were younger, once we were in our teens, we tended to see a lot more of my dad at home, because of their work schedules. Household tasks, decision making, etc. seemed to change more according to the family situation than according to any preset ideas of gender roles, and I really liked that about my family. But sometimes it made things a little confusing too. There wasn't always a clear hierarchy in the decision-making process, which seemed to result in a lot of arguments when each of my parents would want something completely different and neither wanted to compromise. That's where I think the Christian concept of equality of worth, but a clearly assigned leadership role for the man in marriage really has it right. This is something that really pops out to me from this story.
Mary and Joseph were both privileged to be included in pivotal roles in the greatest story ever told. But their roles were very different, and this shows even in the way God interacted with them. God sent his messenger to Mary only once, to tell her she would become pregnant and give birth to His Son when the Holy Spirit came upon her. He told her who this child would be, and He told her what to name him (Luke 1). And that was it. God had clearly made known his expectations for Mary, the mother of Jesus: to nurture and care for him. As far as we know, God did not speak again-- directly, anyway-- to Mary.
However, in these two chapters, we see God speaking to Joseph three separate times: the first time to confirm Mary's story and encourage him to keep his promise to her and take her as his wife, the second to warn him of Herod's plans and direct him to take his family away to Egypt, and the third, to tell him to come back from Egypt after Herod had died. To me, at least, all these messages have one major thing in common: they were major decisions that affected the emotional, spiritual, and physical health of the Holy Family. Of course, the decisions were all being made by God, but-- and this seems important-- they were communicated to Joseph, and only to Joseph. Mary did not receive the commands. Joseph did. And Joseph obeyed them. I don't think Mary was fighting Joseph on any of these, but they were major decisions, which in some cases took her far away from everyone she knew and loved and from her entire family and support system to another country, and she was doing it based on the word of her husband as received from God. She had to have a lot of faith to obey her husband in these areas. And Joseph and Mary must have had to have a very clearly defined family hierarchy as well. Obviously in those days, the man being the family head was much more typical than it perhaps is today, but these were still hard decisions, and... I don't know. Maybe things would have been a lot more difficult if both Mary and Joseph had not clearly understood their own roles in their family.
Surprisingly, we don't often struggle with this issue in our household. I say surprisingly because you would think with our very different upbringings, and my overbearing personality, this might be an issue, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that even though I'm kind of domineering at times, our personalities mesh well, and I really do respect my husband as a person. But still, I have noticed that when we have gotten to a point of making big decisions, I tend to pray for God to give ME a sign and show ME what we should do. I've never even thought to ask Him to reveal to my husband what direction he wants us to take, even though my husband is often much more receptive to God's leading and voice than I am (see “Time Wasting” above! Lol). So... not saying all us wives should just put our head in the sand and wait around to be told what to do, but it's definitely a thought. At the very least, I should be devoting at least as much time praying for God to guide my husband as I do for Him to guide me.
Anyway, those are my major thoughts on these chapters, for now. How about you? Join us on our Lent adventure and leave a comment with your thoughts below! It would be awesome to get a whole network of bloggers reading through these chapters together and strengthening the online Christian community!
So link up!