Last week we celebrated our first anniversary. On my wedding day, as my bridesmaids can attest, I cried all morning. I was just so overwhelmed – by my love for Michael, by my utter disbelief that he had chosen me, by the gratitude I felt toward my beautiful parents, and by the joy that came with knowing that God had come close. I held my sisters’ hands, smiling and laughing, and cried, I talked on the phone with a bridesmaid who was living in Africa and unable to be at the wedding and cried, I prayed and I cried. I was a mess! I pulled it together for my makeup to be done and by the time I walked down the aisle, my tears had ceased and I was ready.
A year later, I’m the same. A year of marriage has only deepened the roots of those feelings; I have only become more saturated with gratitude; I have only become more keenly aware of the grace that permeates my life. I don’t deserve this humble, incredibly handsome, hilarious man and the life we are building together each day. The small moments are the best: waking up to his whispering “Good morning, cute girl.” or jogging around our neighborhood, talking about our days or discovering the totally weird things we each do. Having a partner: It’s a gift I don’t take for granted. I remember being told over and over before we got married that I needed to know how hard marriage is. And I know that to be true. Any time you deal with a whole person and all their imperfections, life is going to be hard, raw, and real. But what I wish people had emphasized was the deep-seated joy. Not just happiness but joy, the kind that grows from shared experiences, selfless moments, and the times where you see God more clearly at work because you see yourself being shaped by your marriage. It’s a sweet thing.
Growing up, I was fascinated by Lent, that strange, cloudy season before the celebration of Easter. But I was only so far fascinated as to how many of my friends – Catholics, yes, but also non-believers – felt compelled to give something up. It is fascinating how we have commodified Lent. I remember not quite understanding why one, especially a person who did not normally ascribe to a Christian perspective, would choose to participate in this practice of self-denial. For what reason? I learned quickly that Lent was simply a time to reevaluate your life and make appropriate changes, purging yourself of the bad. Somehow, this would make you a better person, or at least more healthy, more attractive, and more polite. Lent was about self control. Lent was a self help book lived out.
Yet the striving and self denying always leave me with a profound sense of emptiness. I try really hard to be better. But my failures and blemishes seem to stand out all the more. It’s never enough.
On Tuesday, my husband and I went to The Garage and heard Christopher Paul Stelling play from his record, Songs of Praise & Scorn. The music was beautiful and moving. Christopher’s voice is haunting and his lyrics, with pained honesty, tell gritty stories of life’s dark crossroads and unexplained heartbreaks, of our self-made messes and our moral deficiencies. Stories of suffering. Yet if you listen closely, there is hope. So be be careful / Please be gentle with me / I’m feeling weary, like a high lonesome melody / Yeah be careful, please be gentle with me. / Swear I’m not a bad person, no, /Just got a strange darkness living in me.
That is Lent. A time to face our darkness. Lent, the season where Holiness took up our stories and provided soft ground for them to heal. Lent is about our self helplessness. We come weary and dark, undeserving. And yet He is so gentle with us. He is enough. And there is rest in that.