With this post I conclude the series of email exchanges into which you and I entered more than a month ago on Ash Wednesday. This is the last day of Lent, the Holy Saturday of Passion Week as it is known in the liturgical tradition. Lent has been a good experience for me this year, owing in large part to the disciplined reflection your thoughtful questions have fostered. I hope you have found the experience equally beneficial.
It seems only right to conclude the series on the same theme with which it began: the need for change in the life of a growing, thinking Christian.
I’ve changed a lot in the past nine years. Some of that change I have initiated. Most of it, however, has been the result of changes in my circumstances which have prompted a variety of responses in me.
When I reflect on some of the changes, I smile. I’m a grandfather now, and I wasn’t nine years ago. I love being a grandfather. Who would have guessed that the words “Poppy, I love you,” from the lips of an eight-year-old could be the source of such pure, unalloyed delight? I’m an Anglican priest now, albeit inactive and laicized at present, and I wasn’t nine years ago. Who would have imagined that lifting a plate of bread and a cup of wine while speaking the words The gifts of God for the people of God could bring such a rush of excitement and such a sense of satisfaction?
When I reflect on some of the changes, however, I want to cry. I’m a grandfather now, and I wasn’t nine years ago. Along with that comes the reality that my daughter is a single mother, and although she is providing a safe and nurturing environment for her son, my grandson, life as a working single mom is still difficult at best. I’m an Anglican priest now, albeit inactive, and I wasn’t nine years ago. Along with that comes the reality that I still have no context in which to develop the ministry to which I sensed God was calling me. I’m still unemployed, without income, continuing to exist in the holding pattern which has been my life for several years.
I think the greatest change I have experienced in the past nine years has been a change in my attitude. Oh, I’m still the glum, navel-gazing, sourpuss I have always been. And I still don’t suffer fools gladly. But I’ve developed a new emotion—empathy. When I relate to people these days, I can say, in all honesty, “I feel your pain.” I really do.
This is Holy Saturday, the day after our observance of Jesus’ crucifixion and the day before our celebration of his resurrection. On this day, it is appropriate to remember that God feels our pain, too, since he felt pain himself—the intense, searing pain known by every father who must watch his son die.
When I think about all those years as a pastor and preacher, when I would stand before a congregation and attempt to speak a word from God to them, I feel a combination of wonder and embarrassment. I think God used me in that role despite my inadequacies. But I have to admit that I did not feel their pain. Truth be told, I was ignorant of most of their pain.
I didn’t realize how many of them were in the midst of life-altering circumstances at that very moment. I didn’t appreciate how many were facing crucial decisions, how many were experiencing declining health, deteriorating relationships and vocational uncertainty even as I chided them for their lack of devotion to Christ and the kingdom.
In that regard, I am forever changed. I now know what it feels like to lose a job. I now know what it is to stand by helplessly as your spouse battles a life-threatening disease, wondering if the illness could be any more terrible than the ravages of the treatment. I now know the agony of watching my mother die, slowly and painfully. And I now know the ache in the heart that has accompanied the joy of watching my daughter and grandson endure—and mainly conquer—the struggles that single parenthood entails.
None of that was true nine years ago. None of that was enjoyable. All of it was necessary. And all of it has made me, I believe, a better husband, a better father, a better preacher and pastor, and a better person. But it has not been easy. And it is not over. And the truth is, although I hope and pray that I will withstand the changes that still lie ahead with fortitude and perseverance, I can’t be sure.
Oh, I can be sure that God will always be present to sustain me. I just can’t be sure that I won’t finally throw in the towel and give up completely. You see, I know how close I come to doing that very thing every single day. I know how many times I have been tempted to post this status update on my Facebook page: “Be advised that on this date, Arthur Lough did, finally and completely, give up.”
I honestly don’t think I will ever publish an update like that. Deep in the recesses of my spirit there is an unquenchable (at least so far) spark of hope. Some day it may yet be fanned into a roaring blaze of achievement, but even if it is not, God will not have failed me. The only way my life could produce a negative outcome is if I were to fail God.
I have two gifts to offer God and the people of God: my intellect and my example. I am working hard to use the intellectual resources with which I’ve been blessed. And I pray for the grace to be faithful in every way so that my example will be consistent for all those who know me and have been blessed by my preaching, teaching, and writing.
I really want to finish strong. Mind you, I hope that the finish line is a long way down the road, but I am almost obsessed with the need to cross that line with my head high and my last words a tribute to Jesus Christ, my Lord and King.
If however, and God forbid, you should ever read that I did finally come to the end of my rope and somehow could not find the strength to go on, please don’t let that deter you from your goal of faithful discipleship. All that it will mean, my dear Kathryn, is that, at a crucial moment, I wasn’t able to change.
All the best you, my friend,
Note: Although this concludes the Lenten series of blog posts featuring the exchange of letters between Arthur and Kathryn, he will continue to answer questions and share his perspective on faith and life on his blog called That’s A Good Question. I’ll share more information about that blog next week. In the meantime, you can check out what he has posted there already by visiting askarthurlough.com. Thanks.