Friday, February 22, 2013

Lent for Everyone, Days 8 & 9: Jesus When the Going Gets Tough


I apologize for falling off the bandwagon. It's been a crazy couple weeks.

I was really feeling both of these today! LOL.

Now that it's official, I may as well share that we have made a major decision. We are moving, in May. Not only are we moving, but I am quitting my job as an in-home childcare worker to become a full-time stay-at-home mom and live-in caregiver to my husband's wonderful, octogenarian grandmother. I will also begin to undertake the enormous project of homeschooling my daughter. So... a lot of changes.

Readers, meet Mamom (that's my mother-in-law next to her).

I'm excited of course, primarily because this move will mean so much more financial flexibility for my family. Instead of being kind of a shut-in because of my work schedule and the prohibitive cost of gas (though thanks to my sainted Hubby, I do get out of the house at least three nights a week), I may actually be able to get out during the day and participate in activities and playdates with other SAHMs on a regular basis. I'll also (theoretically) have more time to focus on activities that I haven't been able to give as much time to as I would like, such as stocking and advertising for my store, blogging, and finishing my book.

But in addition to being excited about all the freedoms this'll give me, I'm also kind of anxious. This'll mean learning to live with another person, and becoming responsible for their care and safety. It'll also mean completely overhauling my own self-image as a mother and wife: I've never really pictured myself as a home-schooling mom. I always figured I'd go back to work, at least part-time, when Baby got to be school-aged, and the idea of being wholly responsible for the complete socialization and education of my child is a bit daunting. Homeschooling our kids has always been a bit of an unrealistic dream for Hubby since we always needed that extra income and I couldn't work (even at home) and home-school at the same time, but now that it's possible, he really wants to do this, and I have to admit, I'm excited. I'm getting all sorts of ideas about how I can really tap into the cultural and historical epicenter that is this DC-metro area where we and give my child the education of a lifetime. But at the same time, that timid little voice in my head just keeps wondering: “Can I really do this?” Regardless, I'm gonna try...

As if packing, cleaning, laundry, and planning a
Bible study aren't enough, I also made these to
share on the trip up. Brought it on myself?
Guilty! But they will be SO yummy!
So there's that. On top of that, though, I've also been gearing up for a Tai Chuan Do retreat this weekend, where I and three other dojos worth of students and instructors will be immersed in a veritable martial arts boot camp, sparring and practicing katas and technique and learning about the evolution of the style from 5:30 in the morning until 9 o'clock at night. I'll be joining the ranks of probably close to 200 other students, most of the adults of which have been doing this for two and three times as long as I have at least. I'll also be helping teach the children's bible study while I'm there, so on top of packing, working, and making sure the house is Hubby- and Baby-ready for an entire weekend, I've been trying to put together a little something extra for that. The whole thing is another one of those things that has me both excited and utterly stressed.

Plus, twice in the last couple weeks, I've had encounters with friends that have left me really feeling kind of drained, insecure, and saddened.

So there's the background for you on my mindset when I went into the last couple days' readings. Yesterday's reading was Matthew 8, in which Jesus heals a bevy of people with various afflictions, calms the storm, and sends the demons into the pigs. Then, today, in Matthew 9, Jesus continues in similar fashion, healing and witnessing and getting into debates with the religious authorities. It's a busy couple chapters for the Son of God. But as I read it, I really began to notice just HOW busy it was. It's easy to do a cursory reading of these chapters and just think “Oh, wow, Jesus and his disciples did a lot of awesome things!” and just leave it at that. It's easy to assume the Holy Baker's Dozen (i.e. Jesus and the Twelve Apostles-- oh yes, I totally just went there!) were riding high on the wave of God's coming kingdom, without a worry on their mind. But then, when I really focus on the details, I notice a lot of things that must have made this period of time an emotional roller coaster for Jesus and his friends.

First, there's Matthew 8, in which Jesus heals a leper (8:30), the centurion's son (8:13), and Peter's mother (8:15). He even casts demons out of demon-possessed people (8:16), and all this just adds to his reputation as a miracle worker and a spiritual celebrity. But at the same time, he's utterly aware of the drawbacks of a life of selfless sacrifice and ministering to the needy: two separate people approach Him enthusiastically, then cut and run when he points out the fact that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (8:19-22). A life of sacrifice looks nice from the outside, but it's a lonely life at times, because not everyone is willing to give up the things they love for God or anyone else. Then Jesus and the Twelve get in a boat to cross the sea, and –a presumably physically exhausted-- Jesus curls up in the back of the boat to get a little shuteye, only to be awoken by his terror-stricken friends who-- despite all the amazing things they've seen and the intimate relationship they have enjoyed with the personification of God's Love on earth-- still have the gall to question whether he cares if they live or die. He calms the waves and wind (8:26), immediately causing the disciples to fear him instead (8:27). His power is mind-blowing, and despite how often he's shown himself to be gentle, loving, and forgiving in these men's company, all they can focus on is that power that could squash them like bugs. Talk about a let-down. Then He enters the region of the Gadarenes and casts demons out of two infamously violent demon-possessed men, ridding the region of a big local threat (8:28-32), and what does he get for it? The locals band together and beg him to leave the region before any more of their precious non-Kosher stock go down to Davy Jones' locker (8:34).

Then there's Matthew 9. The gang is back in Jewish territory now, and Jesus is looking forward to visiting his hometown. As soon as he arrives, people are lining up to ask him to heal the sick and lame, and when he heals a paralytic, the crowds glorify God. But this is punctuated by the scribes publicly accusing him of blasphemy (9:1-7) because he forgave the man his sins first. Later, Jesus calls a sinner and tax collector, Matthew, to a changed life and wins an audience with many others at a dinner for sinners (see what I did there?). But this huge leap forward for the population of God's kingdom is tainted slightly by the same old naysayers, who are now pointing out how Jesus is hanging out with the wrong people (9:9-13). Not only is he being criticized by the religious authorities, but people on his own “team” start questioning him (John's disciples), and he has to defend himself to people you would expect to support his every move (9:14-17). As he's patiently explaining to them, a synagogue official confesses his faith and gives Jesus an opportunity to heal a dead child (9:18-19). On his way to do so, Jesus changes a woman's life by healing her of a twelve-year disease (9:20-22), which is clearly a high moment. But then it's immediately followed by public ridicule when he declares that the dead girl is “only sleeping”. Nevertheless, he presses on and heals the girl, which spreads the news of His power throughout the land (9:23-26). Later, he heals two blind men, but then they immediately disobey his mandate not to tell anyone about it (9:27-31); apparently even gratitude for a miraculous healing does not necessarily produce obedience in some people. Then, again, he is criticized and accused by the Pharisees when he heals a mute demon-possessed man (9:32-34). He goes throughout the land healing and working miracles and causing all sorts of people to give glory to God, but at the same time, he witnesses a lot of pain and suffering-- all the time while being criticized and accused by the people “in charge” who feel threatened by the radical change he is bringing about-- and it really gets to Him (9:35-36). He wants more help, and feels like there is more work than even He can do alone, and he asks the disciples to pray for God to provide more workers (9:37-38).

Ladies and gentleman, even Jesus got overwhelmed.

I know this sounds like a no-brainer. I mean, the only Son of God? Those are some pretty huge shoes to fill. It's a role that comes with a lot of expectations and responsibilities. Plus, religion is a topic people get feisty about, because it's close to our hearts and defines us and our world, but he came to turn the whole concept of God and religion on its head. So it was pretty much guaranteed that he was gonna end up making nearly as many enemies as friends, especially among the establishment, who had a lot of interest in keeping the present system that supported their comfy lifestyle intact. But still... I guess sometimes I tend to forget that Jesus was human. I mean, I know it intellectually, but when I'm in the thick of life's storms, I tend to be right there among the complainers, shouting at God in a panic “Don't you care?”

But if I stop to think about it, of COURSE he cares. He's been there! He's been tired, stressed, hungry, thirsty, rejected, criticized, and overworked. He's had people need of him until he's so tired he doesn't think there's anything left, and then had to get up and go give some more. He's had a whole world of blessings and love to share with someone only to have them walk away because the sacrifices were too much and they didn't want to live a life of unity with the Father unless it included a comfy bed and plenty of personal down-time. He's had people who should have known better assume the worst of him and he's been ostracized because people didn't like the message he taught or the costs that accompanied his miracles.

The big difference between Jesus and me, though, is that he kept on keeping on. He didn't let how he felt keep him from accomplishing what he set out to do, even dying on the cross. He never once let his own feelings get in the way of acting as a conduit of God's love, grace, mercy, and power. Me, on the other hand...? If it were me in that story instead of Jesus... well, there probably wouldn't be a Matthew Chapter 9. I would have quit somewhere around the calming of the sea. I don't deal well with criticism and rejection, especially when it's coming from people I feel close to, or who I think should know me better than they seem to. If we rewrote these chapters to be the life and times of Stephanie the Messiah, instead of Jesus, Chapter 8 would've probably ended with me getting off the boat and catching a ride home to lock myself in my room and cry. The two violent demon-possessed Gadarenes would have gone on terrorizing the region, the scribes and Pharisees would have remained happy hypocrites oppressing the masses, the synagogue official's daughter would've been buried, and all those people would have gone on leading their lives deaf, blind, lame, leprous, demon-possessed, mute, sinful, and miserable. Not to mention, without Jesus' death on the cross to pay the ransom for all sins and resurrection to show his victory over Hell, we would have no hope today. This would be it, all there is to life. All because, when the going got tough, the Messiah gave up.

But thank God-- literally!-- that He sent Jesus instead of me. Because Jesus was stronger than I am. He refused to allow the little (and large) trials of life to defeat him, even for a moment, much less permanently. He relied on God's strength to supplement his own and forged on ahead, brushing aside the criticisms, rejection, stress, and exhaustion. And I want that, so bad. I want to know God's strength in my life like that.

Lord Jesus,
I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live the life you did. My own life is so much smaller and simpler than Yours was, and it still overwhelms me. But I am inspired by your perseverance in the face of hardship, stress, and disappointment. I want to know that kind of power that enables me to push on in the face of every challenge. So please, Lord, help me to rely on Our Father for strength, for peace and serenity, and for the will to keep going when I am exhausted. Thank you for persevering even to death on the cross, so that I could have the relationship with God that makes my life, with all of its beauty and struggles, meaningful and precious. 
Amen.  

What do you need God's strength to cope with right now?

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