When I was six, I had a mortal fear of the Big Bad Wolf. I wasn't very concerned about him during the day, but every night, I was convinced that he intended to come through our front door and get me, particularly if I was anywhere near our entranceway. For some time, I refused to even go into the front half of our bungalow after dusk lest the Big Bad Wolf huff and puff and...Get Me.
Elements of this childhood fear have stayed with me. Although parenting has trained me to tame some more trivial anxieties ("Oh, don't worry dear, that's just a cute little spider!"), I still routinely encounter elemental fears while the sun rests each night. I can always tell that something is lurking in the recesses of my mind when I lie down exhausted at the day's end but hover on the edge of sleep for hours. I have been known to wake up in the wee hours startled by a nightmare and begin praying for the safety of our home and family in the Name of Jesus. When I stir for a bathroom break a few hours before my alarm goes off, my mind sometimes begins racing with worries about work, politics, parenting, the future, and death. Nighttime isn't always easy for me.
Lent isn't always easy for me either. As Patty Kirk says in The Gospel of Christmas,"…the crux of Christianity for me has never been the cross….Instead it is God's first response to our hope and longing and frustrating blindness: the birth of his own Son in our world"(41). Christmas is gloriously life-giving for me, an intense experience of sweet warmth and coziness. While Advent and Christmas bring anticipation and joy, Lent leads me where I do not want to go — toward meditations on human frailty, the loss of life, raw March days, and the cold darkness of a tomb. It gets personal real fast as I encounter memories — lost pregnancies, a friend's discovery of cancer, the sudden death of my father at this time of year in 1985. Lent for me is populated with the dry heat of funeral homes, ashes reminding us of our mortality, and sweaters that aren't quite warm enough to keep out the Midwest’s spring chill.
Jesus knows that I don't like Lent, but over the years he has been inviting me to appreciate it just the tiniest bit. Because of my own history with grief, the sobering cross-focus of Lent can threaten to overwhelm me. But by the same token, my own history gives me a clarity about mortality that offers a helpful perspective on life. Over the years, I have learned firsthand that Jesus is present in the bleakest of times, and that it isn't quite so lonely or chilling once you've noticed he is there with you. The hope that exists on the other side of grief has weight and solidity — real spiritual truth in a world that doesn't recognize "real" very well. And so I remember that those ashes, that chill, and this tomb aren't the end of the story.
In addition, I've noticed that good things come through my resistance to the shadows of this season. If it weren't for my discomfort with the clammy desolation of these days, I wouldn't work so vigorously at making our home cozy — baking bread, stockpiling blankets, lighting candles, and reading everything I can about the Scandinavian concept of hygge. Last year we installed some fairy lights permanently around our living room windows — part of my arsenal against the gloom. There is a fair amount of effort involved, but it’s one of the best ways I know to keep aware of the presence of Jesus: remembering that the resurrection is as real as the cookies that just came out of the oven.
In retrospect, I'm not surprised that it was the Big Bad Wolf who frightened me so deeply as a child. The vulnerability of those three little pigs struck a nerve in my tender childhood soul, alerting me to the reality of pain and death in the world. As much as I'd have liked to shield my little self from the griefs that were to come, I'm grateful for the lessons I've learned. And I know now that Jesus was standing in that front entranceway all the time, ready to meet the Wolf with me, whenever he came.