We’re still in the season of Lent, and our 40 days of exploration into the desert regions of our hearts and lives. As we tip into the last half of Lent, we might be feeling a little impatient and ready to move on. Perhaps that feeling is born from looking ahead and planning for Holy Week, and Easter celebrations. Or maybe it’s because the weather is so perfect at this time of year, we’re restless to get moving in body, mind and spirit.
Our Lenten meditations and disciplines offer us the opportunity for significant movement in our spiritual lives. We’re transitioning into greater understanding of ourselves, and a deeper relationship with God in Christ Jesus. As we move towards the conclusion of Lent, let’s take a look at two important elements from the story of Lazarus found at John 11:1-45. Both are fruit of the Spirit, and in our busy lives, both can pose quite a challenge. The first is patience. The second is self-control.
We all struggle with God’s timing, and that can leave us feeling impatient, and maybe even a little reckless. Martha and Mary send word to Jesus that Lazarus is dying. Their frustration at Jesus’ delay in coming is evident. Of course, Jesus’ timing is God’s perfect timing, and he lives according to God’s will. He’s not moved by the whims of the world, or even the apparent distress of hearing that one of his closest friends is seriously ill. Not knowing what’s about to happen, Martha rebukes Jesus. How often in our own lives are we impatient for God to do something, especially if it’s something we’ve prayed for? In hindsight, how often does it turn out that the delay drew us closer to God, was a good thing, or helped us grow in patience and self-control? These spiritual lessons turn us upside down, and inside out. God is giving us purpose to our waiting room moments, helping us to appreciate God’s timing, reminding us that God is in control, and always has the best plan.
Waiting with intentionality and purpose begins with turning to God. That sounds easy enough, but for many of us comes with some heavy baggage. In other words, we can be hindered by guilt or shame, or too focused on doing our own thing to pray and listen. Plus it’s not always easy to hear God, especially when we’re anxious, distressed, or frightened. When the disciples hear that Lazarus is dying, they have a hard time moving beyond fearful reaction. In the meantime, Mary and Martha’s waiting room is crowded with emotional pain and grief. They don’t know that God is about to reveal that resurrection life is available now, today, and in this moment, even as we look hopefully to the promise of new and unending life in Christ. The fruit of patience is to wait with purpose, staying focused and connected to God. The fruit of self-control helps us to set aside our fears, and trust in the Lord.
Lent’s waiting room is an invitation to reflect, listen and discern how God is calling us into new life. As we cultivate the fruit of patience and self-control we draw on God’s strength to slow down, refusing to let stress and worry control us. After He prays to God the Father, and calls Lazarus from his stony grave, Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.” With patience and self-control, we take time to discern what is binding us to the world, tripping us up, or covering our eyes and ears. In our unbinding, God invites us to look closely at what parts of our lives we need to shed like dirty grave clothes in order to reveal the robe of righteousness we wear by virtue of our faith in Christ. What stones do we need to push aside to emerge from the darkness of the tomb into the Light of God’s grace, and abundant life in Christ?
Waiting purposefully helps us to open up the gift of God’s plan for our lives. God has a purpose for each of us in His continuing mission of reconciliation, healing and forgiveness. Seek the Lord in prayer, experience His peace, and welcome the fruit of the Spirit. We are co-creators with God, and agents of Christ’s boundless love, to the glory of God’s name.
• The Rev. Susan E. Wilmot is priest-in-charge at St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church, 975 E. Warner Road, Tempe. Reach her at email@example.com or at (480) 345-2686.