Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
This past winter Maribeth was struck with the flu, pneumonia and sepsis. Incredibly ill, she spent ten days in the hospital some of which was in ICU. A private person, Maribeth tends to keep her spirituality to herself. (She probably hates that I am telling this story). Therefore, it took a tremendous amount of courage for her to ask me to pray with her. She allowed herself to become vulnerable and admit her fear, uncertainty and need for healing. She was sick and out of control. This has become one of the most bonding moments in our marriage. Allowing me to see a part of her that she usually protects was a privilege that has deepened our relationship. Her willingness to be authentic and express fear and uncertainty; to surrender control and be vulnerable was humbling. The fact is both of us were scared because she was not getting better. It is my belief that praying together played a role in her healing and escaping an illness that has had far worse outcomes for others. Although this is a story of physical healing it is also symbolic of the spiritual healing and forgiveness offered us during the season of Lent. It is a time we are to make ourselves vulnerable and authentic before God, so we can be forgiven and healed.
Social media has made authenticity more difficult to realize. The desire to put ones best self forward has resulted in people leading duplicitous lives. A psychologist once told me that the one thing he can guarantee about social media is that everyone lies. No one ever shows pictures of the four bins of clean laundry on the bedroom floor that needs folding or posts details about the fight they had with their spouse or openly worries about a lack of money. We want to protect ourselves from being vulnerable. Most try to protect their ugliest thoughts and darkest attitudes. Our default is to hide what will embarrass us even if it means projecting an image that isn’t real. We will only meet God if we are able to make ourselves open.
The purpose of Lent is to open ourselves to God’s healing and forgiveness. In Israel’s history rending one’s garment was a sign of sorrow, shame or mourning. It was an external gesture that indicated a period of repentance. In the book of Joel, God says, “rend your hearts, not your garments.” God is not looking for an external piety. Instead he desires to know us and have us return to him with our hearts open and authentic. He is asking us to become vulnerable and tear our hearts open so that he can see and heal all that is broken inside it. The sense of urgency found in this passage demonstrates how desperate God awaits our return. Rending our hearts means we are to allow ourselves to reveal our fear, anger, shame, prejudice or greed. To reveal our sin and brokenness, so we can God can heal us, forgive us and love the person we were created to be.
- How difficult is for you to be completely open, honest and vulnerable with God?
- What holds you back?
- What within you needs forgiveness?
- What Lenten discipline will you embrace so that you can become more open and trusting of God’s forgiveness?
FAST from noise: Make 10 minutes of quiet for yourself today. Find a quiet spot. Do not say or do anything. Clear your mind and decompress being aware of the presence of God that is within you and around you.
PRAY a mantra: During your quiet time if you need something to help you stay focused repeat a phrase over and over such as: Lord, be with me.
GIVE the alms of joy, positivity and encouragement in all your interactions today.
Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1. He has been involved in Church ministry since 1991. Besides 12plus1 he also teaches part time for Dominican High School and Cardinal Stritch University. He is married to Maribeth. Their blended family consists of 5 children, 2 sons-in-law, 6 grandchildren and TS Eliot, the golden doodle puppy.