Well, strap in, this is a long one. And I get a little preachy. I know not all of my readers follow the same faith that I do, but I can’t talk about deployment without going there. So…
My husband is home, and Easter approaches. The last good handful of weeks of this deployment, I found myself constantly asking, “why?” Why am I doing all this? Not the mammoth list I shared in January (because the truth is, somewhere around late February, I realized I wasn’t actually tackling much of it). I was asking myself “why” about really basic things I’d always assumed I had to do. Big and small. Like, why am I insisting on using real plates when I can throw away disposable? Who am I doing this for? Why do I struggle against this need to meet all of my friends’ needs, and perfectly? Why do I overthink everything I’m responsible for? Why this incessant need to be right, as if my life depends on it?
Wait. Maybe I do actually believe that my life depends on it. Maybe that’s why every time I try to do something good, even something small, I feel drained. Because subconsciously, I’ve asked every good work I do to support the weight of my life, that is, to validate who I am. Maybe that’s why I found I desperately needed a come to Jesus meeting with a trusted friend at the playground while our kids ate fast food. I needed to know if it’s everyone else, or am I just crazy, or both (thanks, girl).
So as deployment came to a close, I chose not to go out with a bang (not too much), but with a thoughtful, reevaluating decrescendo. I wanted to get to the bottom of the angst, and I could see no better time to give myself space to do it than right away. Because, honestly, this isn’t simply a season of stress. I mean, it is, but I’ve been in a “season of stress” since, I don’t know, high school?
Sometimes, you just have to unwind your brain and heart to see what’s crept in when you’ve been so active. And to even ask why you need to be so active in the first place.
So around day three of the pull back from everything, I was making my bed, and asking myself why I use activity as validation, why I assign different levels of importance to different tasks, more or less, depending on how right or upright those tasks make me feel (more about that in another post).
I figured: Well, I need to be right because you only get one shot at life, and life is short. I’m finishing my twenties, and I want to be sure I’m headed into the rest of life lined up the right way. Is it worth volunteering my life away? What about a career? What if God gave me gifts to be used, and I just spend my time shut up in my home? What if I pursue a career, and I miss out on my family? What if I get it wrong?
Well, what if I get it wrong?
Well, if I get it wrong, then what will it have all been for? What if it’s all for nothing? That’s what I’m really afraid of.
And I realized that I am often afraid of wholeheartedly jumping in anywhere, or risking reputation, or speaking up about something that’s wrong because, if I’m wrong, then what I’m doing and sweating over doesn’t matter. I’ve seen too many people burn themselves out, running around to please people and operate within systems whose authority just didn’t matter at all, and I think that at the basis of so much of my inaction and indecisiveness is this gut fear that I’ll get to the end of my life, and it will have been a lot of exertion, but little meaning.
So my dive into “why” got deep fast. But I was okay with that, that was what I was doing this for in the first place, and as I worked out these thoughts, and journaled, prayed, read, and meditated, I came to the place to which I knew to return. To the Gospel. And the following is all a basically unedited pull from my journal that morning I started thinking about meaning and significance. I do take some imaginative license in rehearsing the beats of the Gospel, but I hope that it encourages you to read it as it did me to write it.
What aspect of His work captures my attention today?
Was going through the cycle. It felt wooden: Jesus died, was buried, was raised again. I stopped. Something caught my attention. I’d never noticed it, really.
Put away. Dealt with. Out of sight and, as the rulers of the Jews and the Romans hoped, out of the people’s minds. We bury people, and they fade into oblivion. We leave legacies so we won’t be forgotten, to have our significance reach beyond the grave. We are intentional about keeping the memories of loved ones alive. So the grave buries our physical bodies, but with them, our “immediate importance.”
So when Jesus was buried, He took on yet another form of insignificance.
The insignificance I dread, which dread fuels my striving, and only serves to amplify the belief that failures of the past cripple me. They don’t. Because Jesus was buried, I won’t be.
We can’t afford to rush through this day too quickly, to Sunday. We must know Friday and Saturday.
What was Jesus doing Friday and Saturday? He was dying. He was in the grave.
He was going to the gates of Hades to stare Satan in the eye and take from him, the keys of death. In other words, He wasn’t simply becoming a Nothing.
Yes, it was literally hell, the kind of hell I fear. But that insignificance wasn’t just insignificance, but the final battle that determined my eternal destination, and you might say, my true significance.
I picture that scene…Jesus, between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning…the beautiful, wearied soul of God-Man approaching the final challenge.
He’s endured Incarnation, the need to grow, subjection to human authority, when how many times must He have truly known better? He’s embraced the humility of John’s baptism of repentance. He’s marveled at unbelief, put up with every fatigue three straight years of intensive ministry had to offer, withstood temptation in the desert. He’s kept His hands open and His heart pure in Gethsemane, when the Father turned face and heart away from the only perfect human being in history, and at His deepest hour of need. He’s been flogged, nearly to the point of death. He’s endured the cross and the mocking. And remained sinless.
And then, buried. What unseen horrors, demonic forces, must have been dancing around His cross at 3 pm that Friday? The gravest moment in history. An earthquake. A darkness.
And even though the veil in the temple split in two, still, no one understood. Not one person, even among the closest of His friends He’d made along the way, who’d traveled, marveled, wept, lived, ate with Him, not even one of them understood at all. Jesus is utterly misunderstood, and seemingly defeated.
And in this state, they buried Him.
Do I feel invalidated? Do I feel it’s all been for nothing?
Do I feel the things of the past have messed up chances for future meaning?
Do I feel too timid to venture into the unknown for fear that I’ll make a mistake so damning that God can’t redeem it?
Do I ever feel belittled, mocked, beaten down emotionally, mentally, or spiritually?
Do I feel God doesn’t care? That I say, “Give me something else!”, and He’s silent? Do I dare to say, “You don’t care!” I have said, “This feels unfair. Why would you leave me like this?”
Do I ever start to believe, if only subconsciously, the lie that this is what Life is….striving for significance…and then, burial?
Going back to that moment in Redemptive History, I see this as the close of Act Two, the darkness before dawn. The hero is buried.
He descends into hell, worn, beaten, rejected, a Man of Sorrows, both unrecognized, and unrecognizable as either God or, indeed, even as a man.
Satan sneers, “Are You really the Son of God?” His age-old refrain. The one thing He loves to ask, “Are you really?” He draws himself up, ready to play the game again. He monologues,
“God wouldn’t fail.
God wouldn’t die.
God’s Son rejected—what? Can You be Him?
God’s Son, human?
God’s Son, dead?
God’s Son, forgotten?
God’s Son, buried?
I told You! I offered, ‘If You’re the Son of God, obey me.’ I wanted to see You prove Yourself, and You didn’t. You just couldn’t do it, poor Jesus. And poor followers of Jesus. Who now is He? So who now are they, but every bit as insignificant as their Master? Duped, wrong, and buried.”
But Jesus came to end all of this. And all the fires of hell are nothing to the fire in His eyes as Satan laughs at Him, and asks one more time, “Can this sorry and forgotten One in front of me really be the Son of God?”
And comes the reply,
I am. Because, even in burial, in oblivion, in hell, He is. And because Jesus knows Who He is, the final test is over.
I am. Because Jesus knew that by the very acts of death and descending into hell, He retained the power to control the purpose of His errand. And so, He didn’t go to hell to take up residence. And as Satan opened the gates to take Him in, Jesus answered, “I am”, and snatched the keys of death from the devil, and every table turned.
Because He did not ever fight for recognition, but only whispered, “I am”, in that, the last test, He overcame.
And on Sunday morning, the life returned to His body. And the nail pierced hands hold the keys of hell still.
And now, all that Satan can do, whether through the mouths of others, or my own faithless heart, is ask me, “Are you really_____________?” But he can’t change who I am. And he can’t lock me in.
Of course, if I believe the lies, they can cripple. They can make me not live as I am capable of living. But their undoing is in the fact that they are lies. Yes, the devil can still lie, but it’s the only thing he can do. But I can take power from those lies by not believing them. Because Jesus, by His insignificance, made them untrue.
So to myself:
Do not let those lies keep me sitting, not standing. Don’t be a crippled, living soul, with a beating heart, lying down, for no reason, in a grave.
Get up and live. Friday and Saturday are over and done, and I can live every day as Sunday.
Applications of those lessons to follow at some point. But for now, I’m enjoying my husband’s return, and our family’s time of rest. Happy Easter.