By Jamie Wiechman

I begrudgingly made my way to the front of the church that Wednesday evening. It was Ash Wednesday. My church family joins many believers in marking this day as the beginning of the Lenten season. Our faith gives us the ability to always celebrate a resurrected Savior, but for the six weeks leading up to Easter each year, we choose to identify with Jesus’ journey to the cross—a journey of suffering.

This year, I didn’t want any part of a suffering journey.

The previous years have held so much suffering, and I was enjoying the experience of the sun shining on my life for the first time in quite awhile. I’ve had enough suffering to last a lifetime, was my thought to myself as I stood in that line of people making their way up to where the pastor stood, ready to mark my forehead with a cross of ashes.

I absolutely did not want that sign of death on my body. Surely I could be exempt from Lent this year, was my silent plea to the Lord.

This was the resistance warring within my body as I made it to the front and submitted to the imposition of ashes on my forehead.

That’s about the time that life got really hard.

Never in my life have I experienced so many medical diagnoses to people close to me in such a short period of time.

We gathered. We grieved. We prayed. We clung to hope. We hung out in a hospital waiting room. It wasn’t easy, but we were doing OK.

Then, out of nowhere, the situation went from challenging, yet manageable to completely unmanageable.

Or maybe it was fine, and I was making it all up in my head.

At least, that’s what the shame voice in my head wanted me to believe. (That voice is completely unhelpful.)

The darkness got darker until all I could hear was the voice of the accuser in my head.

I’m embarrassed to share that with you even now. I’m not sure what happened. I’m not sure how it got so bad. All I know is that I was getting pummeled. I almost wish I had been given a black eye to validate the experience; an unseen battle can leave you feeling crazy.

I cried out to the Lord.

Relief didn’t come immediately, but somewhere in there, I remembered that Jesus got beaten by the soldiers. He and I—both beaten.

Sometime later, this Bible verse came to mind:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

1 Peter 2:23 (NIV)

I felt an invitation to do the same.

Stop fighting. Yield to the battering. Trust God to either deliver me or resurrect me.

I stopped fighting the beating in my mind (or at least tried to) and endured the abusive thoughts. I stopped fighting the shame that blanketed me. I yielded to an inner experience of being led to a death that felt avoidable, but I couldn’t figure out how to avoid it.

The hope I clung to was this: If God doesn’t save me from it, God will save me through it.

As the darkness began to retreat, I gained some clarity: the suffering I’d been going through was part of a purification process. Something in my flesh was dying; that’s why it was so uncomfortable. Yet, through the process, my faith would surely come out shining, Jesus would be revealed, and God would be praised.

(I may have prayed a recent prayer asking for Jesus to be revealed.)

A little earlier, Peter says:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV)

Mental battle was not what I imagined when I read about “various trials.” I thought about being burned at the stake or going to prison for standing firm for Jesus. I guess I forgot about the unseen battle Paul talks to the Corinthians about: “arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

When I came to Jesus regarding my terrible thoughts, I was aware of having joined with Him in a suffering journey.

This is exactly what I was afraid of that Ash Wednesday evening. I didn’t want suffering. Just the resurrection, please.

However, now that I’m here, I might as well walk it the rest of the way.

I will trust myself to the One who judges justly – the One who defeated His enemy and mine – the One who was saved not from death but through death. Trusting that being “united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).

To be honest, I’m hoping that a Lenten journey this intense will yield to an Easter celebration that is just as dramatic. But even if it doesn’t, I know my Beloved has me in the palm of His hand and is working all things for my good.

At the very least, my eyes are on the cross, and I eagerly await the resurrection only Jesus can bring. He did it after Calvary. He can do it again.

Why do I share this with you?

Honestly, I didn’t really want to. It’s kind of private.

Yet I offer it because I thought that a few of you might have felt a little crazy in the last month, as well. Or maybe life has been much harder than you would have expected, and you don’t know what to make of that. Maybe you, too, have been sharing with Jesus in His sufferings and walking your own unique journey to the cross.

Maybe you, like me, need encouragement to be watching Jesus and expecting to see some sort of resurrection.

“Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” That is who He is. Because of that, we are invited to believe that the One who saved us by His death will save us, His beloved ones, in any circumstance–either from trouble, or through it.

Jesus, please give us the grace we need to endure as you did, that we might also experience your resurrection power. Amen.

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