“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” —Joel 2:12-13
“If you look for the pain, you will find it. Don’t go looking for it.” —- My dentist, a few weeks ago after my root canal.
It is so that my experience this time was entirely different from those previous occasions when I sat in the dentist’s chair for this same purpose. In fact, those other times I would have to say I ‘looked for the pain” and you can be sure I found it. I planned ahead and arranged to have someone drive me to and from my appointments. I filled the prescription for pain meds as soon as I could and yes, I took them until they were gone.
Well, it turns out this time my dentist was right. Yes, I did use it as a good excuse to have someone else step in for leading Confirmation that night, but I probably could have gone. Even so, my actual pain was minimal. In fact, as I’ve poked around since I’ve discovered that there is actual research to back her up. Sometimes when we ‘look for’ pain we are, in fact, more likely to feel it. And that seems especially foolish when that pain is less than ‘productive.’
On the other hand? Sometimes pain is entirely productive. This is the sort of pain which alerts us that something is wrong, wounded, or broken. Indeed, had I tended to the pain in my tooth weeks before I actually surrendered and found myself in that dentist’s chair, I would have been in a whole lot better shape. That nagging toothache was telling me something that for reasons I now find hard to comprehend, I chose to ignore until I no longer could. In the same way, that nagging sense that something is not right in the world, in our world, between those closest to us or people far away — it alerts us to the truth that something is terribly wrong and is crying out for healing.
- Does the practice of the ‘imposition of ashes’ enhance your experience of Ash Wednesday? Why or why not? How do those ashes point to ‘productive’ pain?
- What ‘pain’ surfaces for you as you approach Ash Wednesday this year?
- How does the promise of God’s grace, mercy and steadfast love make it possible for you to stand within that pain on this day or on any day? Take those words apart and stand still within them. God is gracious. God is merciful. God is slow to anger. God is abounding in steadfast love. Stand within them even longer than you stand within the pain.