by Gary Babcock
When I think about Lent, I think about giving something up or setting something aside in order to connect with God on a deeper level. I’ve NEVER done this! I’m not good at giving up anything, honestly. Besides, isn’t Lent a Catholic thing? I’m a Protestant. Self-flagellation is not in my genes!
James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” I’m certain this is true, but I’m discovering another truth that seems more common to my life experience – God is always trying to draw near to me, even when I’m not trying to draw near to him. I suppose this is grace. It’s God doing for me what I am unable and often unwilling to do for myself.
Many years ago, easily 20, a friend of mine told me she had had a vision about me and asked if I wanted to hear it. I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to mystical kinds of things. Not only am I a Protestant, I was raised Baptist. Baptists don’t do Lent and they certainly don’t do visions. Catholics and Charismatics freak us out!
My friend said she wanted to make sure I wanted to hear the vision because it was not altogether pleasant. I assumed this meant it wasn’t a vision about winning the lottery. Dang it! (Please excuse my Baptist cursing). It sounded a little apocalyptic, but now my curiosity was piqued. It also made me a bit nervous, but I trusted the kindness and motives of my friend. I was impressed that she gave me the choice and didn’t just blurt it out in public as she shook an angry finger in my face. That’s the kind of vision I really hate! “Woe unto you, sinner…”
Here’s the vision my friend shared:
I see you all bound up in chains; big, heavy, iron chains. They are wrapped tightly around you from head to toe and you are bending under their weight. You are struggling to get free but there are too many chains, so many in fact, that you can barely see out. You can hardly move. And…(I’m thinking, “are u kidding me? There’s an “and”?) And the chains aren’t only on you, they are in you – running through you, coming out of you, growing out of you. (Are you sure there’s not a, “winning the lottery” vision, somewhere in your file?) The good news (Finally!) is that you are not alone. Jesus is there with you and he’s removing the chains. This is a painful process because your flesh has adhered to the chains. You are writhing in pain because as Jesus removes the chains, he has to tear away the tissue. (This is good news? I should have asked for the bad news first!) Now, the point of the vision isn’t that you are in pain. The point of the vision is that you are not alone. Jesus is with you and he is doing the work.
Yikes! Now that’s what I call a vision!
So, you may ask, “Where are you now, 20 years later?” I wish I could say that the vision inspired me to completely surrender to the process so that I could get it over with. But I’m more stubborn than smart, more sinner than saint. Still determined to do things my way, I shed a few chains here and there and pick up a few new ones along the way. I’m hesitant to let some chains go. I want to hold onto them just a little longer. Sometimes I even pick up discarded chains and try them on again, deceiving myself into thinking there will be a different outcome this time. I’ve learned that most chains look beautiful, until you put them on.
The funny thing about visions sometimes, is that they seem to be “in time” and “out of time” all at the same time. Truth is always operational even when we aren’t aware of it…or paying attention to it…or even when we’re in denial about it. Life is a Lenten journey. It’s not just a little holiday we take a few weeks out of the year. God takes us on that life-long journey and our bags, my bags, are often packed with apathy, ambivalence, mixed motives…and chains.
Perhaps there’s growth in coming to realize that grace flows even through our messy baggage; that God is able and willing to sift through all our junk to find that small seed of our desire for wholeness. Perhaps he uses the pain and struggle of freeing us, to help us truly see that Jesus is with us and he is graciously doing for us what we are unable to do for ourselves.
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Gary Babcock attends The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. For Lent, various people from their community are contributing to a daily Lenton e-devotional. On Mondays for the rest of Lent, we’re going to share with you some of their thoughts and insights.