Editor’s Note: Missioner Janice Smullen reflects on the gifts of Lent and the opportunity that it offers for healing of our broken human nature.
Is it possible to love Lent? To love 40 days of fast, reflection, soul searching and acts of mercy? We spend a lot of time during Lent reading and contemplating Christ’s recognition of suffering and learning how to share in his knowledge and dependence on God’s love and mercy.
I have recently finished reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Mr. Stevenson, a lawyer, founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama which is dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly accused, and the young who become trapped in the dark corners of our criminal justice system. Near the end of the book, Mr. Stevenson is feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem. His ponderings really struck me and I want to summarize and share them. He writes:
“I suddenly didn’t want to be surrounded by all this anguish and misery…I realized my life was full of brokenness, broken people, broken systems, people broken by war and poverty, sickness and disability…and they were judged by people broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice. I realized that after 25 years, I don’t do what I do because it is required, or necessary, or important. I do what I do because I am broken too…. Being broken is what makes us human…but our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, healing, and meaning. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion…simply punishing the broken, walking away from them, or hiding them from sight only ensures that they remain broken, and we do too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity” (Just Mercy pp. 288‐291).
In a particularly dark point in my life, I attended Good Friday stations, as I had done for the most part of my previous 50 years. During those years, I often routinely apologized to Jesus for my part in putting him through such suffering. At the end of this particular service, I knew that He understood my suffering.
This quote from Just Mercy put that feeling into words for me. Within that moment, I felt “reciprocal humanity” with Christ. This experience deeply cemented my ability to connect compassionately with others. I do love the effects of Lenten practices that enable me to go deeper within myself and with others as we move through suffering and glimpse small resurrections.
Reflection question: How can I open new depths within me while using Lenten practices to sustain me?
*Featured image: adaptation of photo by Pixabay user Pezibear – labeled for reuse