Often we sell ourselves short, letting ourselves off the hook too fast. Life, on the other hand, is not so easy on us!
After saying something hurtful, I can apologize. If we thoughtlessly let down a friend, we can say we are sorry. Most good people — and if you are reading this you probably fit the bill — do not intend to injure others or do what is wrong. When we fail, we generally make amends. We generally make amends. We generally choose good and avoid evil.
But life is not so easy — either on us or for us. That’s what Lent is all about — getting to that deep human core where we know ourselves to be both powerless and culpable, paralyzed by forces seemingly beyond our control, yet called to break free from that which holds us bound and burdened. No, life isn’t easy… but too often hard!
Jeanne Bishop, only after more than twenty years, is finally able to say out loud the name of the teenager who murdered her sister, brother-in-law and their unborn child. It took decades for this woman, a Chicago public defender in her professional life, to meet the grown man who was serving a sentence of life without parole.
What they had to say to each other was hard. Wounds ran deep on both sides. How do two people like this even begin a conversation no less approach reconciliation? Bishop explains the challenge and predicament perfectly. Even after all these years, “it would take time, untangling those stories, like patiently trying to pull apart the chains of two necklaces knotted together.”
Lent entices us past the bland grocery list of minor infractions. If we are willing, and when we are able, Lent nudges us into the deeply tangled knots of our lives. We must proceed without knowing how it will all turn out, even knowing for certain what is the right way to go about it. Such if life! Such is the nudge of grace!
Susan Stabile’s counsel to Jeanne Bishop is spot-on for us as well: “That is the point with God: we don’t get all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed in advance. We’re asked to say yes, knowing the path ahead is clouded in uncertainty — to say yes in faith that God will be with us no matter what.”
Bishop counsels us to accept God’s invitation, to follow God’s gentle but persistent nudge, to take a first step toward reconciliation without knowing what lies ahead. Again, she provides a wonderful metaphor that suggests the unfamiliar terrain we must follow. She compares our terrain to paths in the hills of Scotland where she and deceased sister had travelled with the geometric expansiveness of Illinois where they had grown up.
In Illinois roadways and farm fields are even and linear. Bishop muses that where she lives “you can sit on your front porch and watch your dog run away for a week.” Scotland, Bishop and her sister discovered, remains “a place of rises and curves; even if you are headed in the right way, you couldn’t be sure, because the streets turned and bowed.”
This is the invitation of Lent… to finally approach those parts and places in our lives that are tangled in knots. Not to sell ourselves short by letting ourselves off the hook too fast. With God as faithful companion and guide, we dare to walk a way both turned and bowed.
In this and in many ways, I am indebted to Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer by Jeanne Bishop. Westminster John Know Press, 2015, pages 124-5.