By Dr. Sunny Sue Chang Jonas and Mrs. Ruth Cleghorn
Can we begin by acknowledging the irony of a liturgical season that emphasizes longing and a waiting for the triumph of resurrection, “…at such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)? I recently was deeply blessed by a Lenten reflection that allowed us to recap and grieve the events of the last two years of COVID, social injustices and unrest, and a litany of additional deconstruction-reconstruction practices that felt both futile and deeply necessary. The devotional included questions that explored how to right wrong practices of justice and race, divisions of politics and faith, sins both individual and corporate, and Church triumphs/abuses/shortcomings. These are just a few of the very important societal and personal journeys that often did not find a stopping place before the next layer of grief was laid atop, anew.
As an educator and mother, I experienced both my children’s superintendent (paid position) and Board president (unpaid position) receive death threats. As an administrator, I experienced both a teacher strike as well as a teacher walk out over issues like masking, IEP meeting staff representation, and fair wages. As a political independent and US citizen, I saw on the news the capital insurrection and a deep divide between political parties on many important and pragmatic issues. I grieved unjust deaths and sometimes unjust consequences following the unjust deaths. My friend, a stay at home mother of four, lost her husband to cancer. Another friend’s brain tumor came back. Another friend’s daughter developed a brain tumor, and my grad school friend’s partner called me to say that my friend developed a tumor then died, both without me knowing or talking with him at all. I could go on, and I know you could as well.
While the nation experienced multiple rifts, my church did as well. 5/8 pastors resigned, grieving all the while. The 3 remaining also grieved while being left with an inordinate amount of work as well as the task to help shepherd congregational grief and confusion. At this time, Mr. Rogers’ charge to always “look for the helpers” reminded me not to despair. Lament, yes. Grieve, yes. “Be full of sorrow. Grieve, mourn, and weep” (James 4:9), yes.
But, I saw helpers. I did see people rising up in prayer, in marches, in writing, in helping, as God gave them strength and mercy to both “…strengthen feeble arms [to lift others] and weak knees [to they themselves still stand].” (Hebrews 12:12). Most recently, I saw rallying forces supporting conflicts and war in Tigray/Ethiopia-Eritrea and Ukraine. I am heartened.
But it has been essentially a 2+ year Lent. When we are charged not to say Alleluia until Easter, when we are choosing to give something up, or eliminate something for the sanctification of our souls and identification with the sufferings of Jesus, I do an internal eye roll as if to say, COME ON. Life has sucked for so long and for so many reasons. How long, O Lord? Will you bring your presence of peace and joy? Can you redeem even this?
My friend Ruth led a small group of us recently in an art reflection grieving exercise. She is a helper. Most of us are helpers, and we are trying to be in ways that God leads, convicts and loves us into. I’ve attached her reflection here, and I hope it strengthens you, as it did me. As we are a community of love-rs, grieve-rs, and wait-ers, let us reflect this Lent, almost broken beyond repair, almost so full of grief that there is room for little else, let us help each other towards hope and wait on the Lord and the goodness of His resurrection together.