I have been carrying a low-grade unease for the past several days; the Lenten Season is nearly half over and I have not figured out precisely how I want to celebrate it. I have been through giving up ice cream, and chocolate. One year I even tried to give up worrying. (That was harder!)
Last evening, in reading from Psalm 78, I began to think differently about the whole situation. In that Psalm, we read of the Children of Israel in the wilderness continually forgetting what God had done for them. According to the text, “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness? Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?’” In short, they doubted “his saving power” despite all that they had seen him do in the past. For us, like the Children of Israel, it is so often, “So, God what have you done for me lately.”
Perhaps we can celebrate Lent, not just by ‘giving up’ but by ‘giving in’ once again in a willful act of trust, surrendering our own ideas of what God ought to be doing for us or for our particular projects and agreeing to trust that a God who gave us His only Son will also be at work in all the other arenas of activity to which He has called us.
The Lenten season invites us to remember and to reflect on God’s ultimate plans and purposes for us as individuals and for the entire universe, plans laid out, according to Ephesians 1, “before the foundation of the world.” This same God who has prepared for our salvation and the salvation of the world, has also prepared for our partnership with Him in these saving purposes. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that, even while we are being worked on as his projects – whether in a Middle Eastern wilderness, or the various ‘wildernesses’ in which we find ourselves today – he has prepared good work for us to do as part of the process.
Like the Children of Israel, we want to see God at work in the ways that we think He ought to be at work on our behalf. This month, for example, I have my ideas of how God ought to be working in Albany and Washington, and in Houghton’s plans for admissions, advancement, and a hundred other areas of my concern. I expect you have your own list of where God ought to be working.
Lent reminds us that, though God is most certainly not on our timetable, He is at work. As Psalm 78 moves toward resolution, we are told that “He led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid.”
May we, in this 2017 Lenten season, have the courage to ‘give in’ and trust in that same safety for our lives and our world today.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976