Lenten Reflection

I attended Catholic schools growing up and year after year the importance of Lent was shared with me and my peers. At school, home, and church these messages of Jesus’ greatest sacrifice began to influence my religious journey. In the Catholic church, it is common for people to give up something for Lent to signify Jesus fasting for forty days and forty nights that is written about in Matthew 4:2. Another common practice in the Catholic church is to only eat two meals on Friday, with none of the meals containing meat.

Growing up, it was a competition in the classroom to see who could give up what and who could last the longest throughout Lent. It can be tempting to say “I want to give up chocolate” or “I want to give up junk food” and these were common decisions made by my elementary classmates. Thinking back upon those days, I realize much of our competition and discussion in school became solely about us and less about the sacrifice of Jesus. Reflecting back upon my elementary school days, this year, I choose to give up chocolate again except with a new intention! I have added a small devotion twice a week, which helps me center my thoughts less about my cravings for chocolate and more towards Jesus’ love for me.

On a more hilarious note: in second grade (still in Catholic schools) I tried to give up school for Lent…that didn’t settle well with my teacher, my principal, my mom, or the priest at our church.

Katie Taylor

3 Takeaways from The Shack

The Shack is a movie, now in theaters, that follows a distraught man, Mackenzie Phillips, as he struggles to find his faith and get through a great tragedy. It’s based on a book by William Paul Young that I was lucky enough to be recommended when I was in middle school. After seeing the movie last night, I cannot get these themes out of my head.

If you haven’t seen the movie and are not familiar with the story, not to worry. No spoilers in this post, but check out this trailer.

Now that that’s all cleared up, here are:

My Three Takeaways

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1) We are not supposed to “play god”

Most of the really controversial debates in our world, especially around politics, are people arguing over what is “good” and what is “evil.” We think we have the wisdom and power to be the judge, but we do not. We don’t know everything and often we are selfish with our decisions. Not only are we not qualified to be the judges, but it is not our job. God didn’t create us to judge each other and decide right from wrong. He’s already done that.

The Shack’s main character, Mack, spends a lot of time criticizing God and how He takes care of his children. Mack soon realizes that he can’t even fathom what all God has to consider. It’s easy for us to condemn one person and reward another. What Mack and we often forget is that all people are God’s children. He can’t simply choose which of his children are evil and which are good for the same reason that parents don’t abandon their children when they rebel. This concept was tough for me to grasp, as I imagine it is for most. How could we possibly save the soul of a murderer? A terrorist? A rapist? The answer: we can’t, He can.

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2) God does not make bad things happen, but He is with us when they do.

Unfortunately, a lot of people imagine God as a puppetmaster, pulling the strings. They hear that He is all-powerful and assume that he controls everything that happens. Yes, he could, but he doesn’t. He gave us free will. He gave us choices. With that freedom comes sin and sometimes sin leads to pain for innocent people. God has a plan for each one of us. A plan that includes joy and everlasting life. A plan where we choose Him. Does He try to guide us to that path? Yes, but we are stubborn.

He doesn’t make these bad events happen, but He is still there. God never turns His back. It’s easy for us to blame him and feel that He has left us in these dark times. He never abandons his children, even in dark places, even when we put ourselves in those places.

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3) We have to let go of pain and anger

The Shack follows Mack on a journey through The Great Sadness. He is, understandably, in incredible pain. Pain from his loss. Pain from his guilt. Pain from his anger. This pain is debilitating. Mack quickly figures out that he cannot move on with his life and be a good father to his children until he lets this pain go. Is it easy? Of course not. God isn’t expecting us to do it in one move. We have to make peace with the past. It’s over.

The part of the movie and book that struck me most was the theme of forgiveness and its importance in relieving our pain. Whether it’s a small grievance or an act considered “unforgivable” in your mind, we have to forgive.

Let’s be clear about what “forgiveness” entails, as The Shack establishes it. Forgiveness is not forgetting and it doesn’t excuse the act. It does not establish a relationship. “It means letting go of someone’s throat.” Holding onto a grudge is not healthy. Keeping negative thoughts in your head towards them only poisons you. Following Christ is not only done in words, but in a holiness of heart.

Disclaimers: In this post, I refer to the Holy Trinity as “God” and I refer to God occasionally as “He.” I recognize that there are three parts to the Holy Trinity and fully accept that God’s gender is ambiguous. This language is to make the writing easier to understand and more to the point. All the quotes are from The Shack book, though similar things are said in the movie.

-Abby

If you loved this post, check out my blog series, “Daily Encounters.”My next post will by March 23.

Light through the Darkness

If asked about my upbringing, I’d say church was a big part of my life. Ever since I can remember, I was attending bible studies, youth group, vacation bible school, and every community event that I could be involved in. Being a part of a small congregation, however, changed the way that I viewed the church and the community I felt most a part of. For 18 years, it had been my second home, with families of best friends, pastors who knew every detail about me, and older members who became quite literally like my grandparents.

In the time that had come for me to move away from college, I was strong in faith, moving forward to what I was told would be best for me. God had guided me to an unknown place at the University of Iowa, to which I could now call my new home. Traveling has always been a large part of my childhood, but living in a new environment was quite an adjustment for me. The landscape was beautiful, air was pure, and people were friendly.

The first choice I made in this new town was, aside from class, to attend a church service. I spent my morning walking across the bridge, up the many hills, and down the streets until I got to the large building in front of me. Nervous already, I walked in, hoping to see some welcoming faces and outstretched hands. Unfortunately, I was not greeted with the same enthusiasm as my church back home. I noticed the groups this congregation had seemed to form with one another, forgetting to open their circle for the lost college child.

Needless to say, that was the beginning of a downhill spiral for my experience away from home. My expectations were above the point of reality and never before had I felt more alone in my life. I sat in the pew crying that morning, praying for an answer to a situation I had not known myself how to handle.

Months came and went, and I continued to pray for an answer. I felt myself stepping away from the trust that first guided me there, and in return, away from God. I knew I was in the face of losing my faith, which was far removed from what I had ever encountered on my own. That, in itself, was one of the most fearful things I’d come to recognize.

Through prayers and many calls home to my family, I knew when I had hit the lowest of lows that I could possibly face internally. I was hit with depression, had constant negative thoughts, stopped engaging in my community, and was not longer going to church.

I can’t say I attribute the knowledge to one day, but after a while when I stopped searching so much for what I believed to be the right answer (to stay and readjust), I felt God smiling down on me, encouraging me to go back to my family. I will always wonder why I was sent there to begin with, but I always have the feeling like it was a way for me to figure out who I was as a person away from what I knew. And that was true, as I grew and learned to love and appreciate who I am in the hardest times and the confrontation I was forced to make with myself, my community, and God.

Moving back to Kansas felt a little different from what I had planned for my life and what I had expected to do in college. I wanted to move away, to travel the world, to study journalism, and to practice photography. Not until I transferred to school at the University of Kansas did I realize that my home never had to be far from my home to begin with. I enrolled in both the design and journalism programs that allowed me to do everything I had hoped to study and more, started joining every organization I wanted to be involved in, and found a new community.

In my search, I came across a wonderful campus ministry called New Church Lawrence, to which since has shut down, but has been transformed by the wonderful leaders into our connection with First United Methodist Church and the creation of Wesley KU. I had never felt more connected in my life and I could feel the weight be lifted completely from my shoulders, as well as a sense of peace washed over me.

I’d love to acknowledge the fact that even though I never knew where I was going or what I was doing, that God positioned me to face a new perspective and gain a new outlook on life; something that I needed more than anything. Finding my way back to God and to a loving community was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve felt and shared with others. By losing faith, I’ve gained it back and now stronger than ever.

Today, I pray that these paths of life lead us in the direction not to which we hope to go, but the way in which we need God to lead us to see everything life has to offer. I pray that we are led closer to Him everyday and that even in the lowest of lows, you will come out feeling the sun on your face and hands stretched up to the sky, praising His name.

This is my testimony and my light through the darkness. I hope you can reflect on yours just the same.

-Lauren Muth