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in Life

How can it be good?

Good Friday
What a name
For a day when
Darkness seemed to reign.

Good Friday
Daring hope
In a God who
Took our shame and pain.

Good Friday
Yes it is.
For our God did
Not stay dead.

Good Friday
For we know
That our Savior
Reigns. He rose instead.

If there were ever a phrase that reminds us how hard and necessary it is to hold two contrary ideas at the same time, it is the words: Good. Friday.

How can a day filled with violence toward the innocent be rendered good? How can a day that left Jesus’ followers scattered, lonely and confused be good? For those who lived through it, it wasn’t yet good. And it is good for us to sit for a while in that reality with them. “Step into the shoes of the disciples,” my little liturgy book encourages today, “who did not know Jesus would rise from the dead. Imagine your world without the resurrection.”

Read through John 18 and 19 — and read no further. Stop, abruptly, at the words, “they laid Jesus there.”

We were reading the familiar story to our children this morning as they ate their eggs. They asked why I wept at the “crown of thorns” and “purple robe.” Because, dear ones, he is our King, and the people did not see it. They tried to mock him with these trappings of Lordship, but he was their Lord all along. A servant king who washed feet the night before. An all-powerful God who permitted a crown and robe of pain. He wore those things for us. He was humbled and shamed before he was exalted. In the ultimate irony of an upside-down kingdom, he turned the cross into a coronation.

I remember feeling the weight of Good Friday as if for the first time on an April day in 2010. I was a reporter at a small newspaper in Anacortes, Washington, where tragedy had struck the night before. Across a little bay from our house, a heat exchanger at a local oil refinery exploded, killing three people that night and another four in the coming weeks, seven in all. I woke to the rush of reporting on it, and also to the weight of it.

I lived closest to the scene, so I reported from a nearby coffee shop, talking to others who had felt the ground shake in the middle of the night. I remember sending in my contribution to the breaking news story and then sitting in my car for a while, weeping. It was Good Friday, the day that we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, and it felt like it. The rain was coming down heavier than usual. Gray smoke from the explosion lingered in the midday sky. And I asked God, “How can you call this day good?”

Many might be asking that today, a decade later, as the coronavirus seems to take over more and more lives. Where I live near Washington, D.C., no one is unaffected. We’re all homebound but for grocery runs and essential work. The fortunate ones, like us, still have work they can do, even if it feels impossible with kids at home, too.

Outside, most days are sunny and spring-like lately. Sometimes, on a long enough walk, taking in the tulips and dogwoods and redbuds, you can almost forget the tragedy that’s taking hold of the world. Your soul sinks into the rhythms of God’s creation, remembering, without a word, that he is still making all things new. That he brings life — surprises us with it — where, a day or two ago, there was only death.

Last night, we tuned into our church’s online Maundy Thursday service. We served ourselves grape juice and Tam Tam crackers and ached for the communal part of communion. We heard again just how off-key we can be when our singing isn’t drowned out by the rest of the saints. We took in the pastor’s reminder, once again, that this is not how it will always be. As Sandra McCracken sings:

“We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more.”

It’s OK that we weep today. In fact, it’s good. As Andrew Peterson sings, “This is the dark before the dawn.”

And I believe it will be brighter for it.

in Life

When Self-Pity Raids Fellowship

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Woe is me.

I don’t say it as I walk through the doors of our lovely church and greet our fellow saints every Sunday morning. But—if I got the kids out the door and the limping dog fed and the home group meal made while my husband was off at another drill weekend—it’s likely I’m thinking it. 

Woe is me. I am only trying to get to church.

For years, I thought the problem with this scenario was that the God of the universe didn’t swoop down to help everything go perfectly on Sunday morning. There was the morning I got entirely ready before fetching my toddler, thankful we might be on time—for once!—only to find she had discovered some paint supplies while wearing a soiled diaper and redecorated the nursery in a certain shade of brown.

Other mornings, it’s a 102-degree fever discovered when we’re already on our way or the car doors that seem to, almost providentially, auto-lock every time I’m headed toward them with my hands full of piping-hot casserole for a potluck lunch. Sometimes it doesn’t take much at all—a bad hair day, a botched breakfast—to send the woman who woke ready to praise the Lord careening down a cliff of “why me”s.

Rather than entering the house of the Lord with a smile befitting my salvation, I rush to my seat with clenched teeth. Tell the story of Jesus and his glory? I can’t wait to tell the tale of my terrible morning. I have more than a chip on my shoulder; I am bearing a silent grudge against a God who didn’t orchestrate my circumstances to my liking. Rather than a garment of praise, I walk in wearing something that feels more comfortable than putting on Christ: self-pity.

Woe is me.

Somewhere between the barking dog that woke the baby and the closet filled with “nothing to wear,” I bought in to the lie that the God who gave me his own Son didn’t give me enough this morning. I believed the whisper that, above all, the Savior who says he gives peace that surpasses understanding still owes me a peaceful Sunday morning.

But do you know what God says about my pity party? “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Oh, the slippery slope that hope becomes when we place it in lesser things than the one who promises to be “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:18–19). How quickly pity rises when I fixate my meager hopes on a tranquil morning rather than the lasting source that springs eternal. But how did I get here?

How is it that, even as I prepare to enter the sanctuary to celebrate this shared eternal hope, I find my own hope placed in so many trappings of the Sunday morning experience instead? Like a piece of driftwood, these hopes of on-time arrivals and family-feud-free drives are dashed to pieces on the rocky shores of circumstances that are out of my control.

But here’s the thing: I think that’s exactly what God wants.

When I place my hopes and mood and focus for a Sunday morning in things other than the only one who’s worthy of them—it is a mercy for them to be shattered.

In the early days of my first baby’s arrival, I told a friend that it often felt like God was opposing me when a series of these little things went wrong—especially if it was while I was on my way to do a good thing, such as get to church on time.

“Why would he do that?” I asked out loud.

“Well,” she said, wincing before delivering the blow, “God does oppose the proud.”


“But gives grace to the humble,” I said, remembering the rest of 1 Peter 5:5.

It took days for the truth of that phrase to settle in. This, too, is a mercy, I thought. It is a mercy that God allows blow after blow to my thoughts of self-sufficiency on a Sunday morning, that he delivers me utterly humbled and limping across the threshold.

“We’re here!” I should say, as I throw my children across the finish line into the church foyer. “By the grace of God, we’re here.”

And what if I did that? What if I did high-five the mother of five who makes it to church (with a smile!) without the help of her worship-leading husband? What if I silenced the voice of Self-Pity 2.0 that says when I see her, “Look, even she made it to church on time. You only have two kids. She has five!” and offered instead a knowing glance, a reassuring hug. You’ve arrived. We’ve arrived.

I shudder to think about the half-truths that marinate in my mind and keep me from doing just that, that keep me rooted in thoughts about myself rather than reaching out to others. Because, if there’s one thing self-pity does on a Sunday morning—with the help of its friends comparison and envy—it’s suffocate fellowship. It is the tip of an iceberg of ingratitude, looming large beneath the surface. It is a symptom of a heart that fails to receive what God has delivered to us that morning and, instead, looks longingly on the lots of others.

We can chip away at self-pity with a little self-talk, sure. But it can do very little to cure us of our condition. This iceberg must be swallowed up by something larger, melted by the glory of a God who is worthy of the hopes we have placed in lesser things, able to bear them fully, able to fulfill them fully. Worthy of our Sunday mornings.

When I meditate on the upside-down arch of Christ’s life and coming kingdom, I see that we should not be surprised by the “fiery trial” of another Sunday morning. I see that, in Christ, we have both the example and the ability to receive it humbly, even to fellowship in it.

Philippians 2:1–8 (NIV): “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

I see that Christ—the only one untainted by the sin that threatens to sink me every Sunday—did not shake his fist at a God who ordained circumstances he alone did not deserve. He asked for the cup to pass from him, yes, but then received it fully. “Not as I will,” he said, “but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

Lord, let us remember that whatever passes into our Sunday mornings passed first through the fingers of a suffering Savior. Even the most unwelcome of circumstances—especially those—can be used to humble us, to sanctify us, to lift our eyes from the burning eggs to remember the Bread of Life. Let us fix our gaze on the object of Sunday morning worship and find self-pity—find our very selves—swallowed up by Him.

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