So the conversation I have with my Nana the night before I sit down to write this essay goes a little something like this. We’d just got in from choir rehearsal. I’m still rolling around town in my pajamas when I’m not at work because I still haven’t recovered from the flu 100%. I probably look a mess. I feel tired. I throw down my backpack, grab a bowl of spaghetti, and join Nana at the dining room table where she’s begun sorting sheet music. I spin my noodles around the bowl and say this,
“So Nana… I know you’ve yelled at me more than once already about not having this reflection piece written. But can we just put that aside for a second… because I honestly don’t know what to write about. Every year Lent has seemed so easy for me to get into. It’s my favorite liturgical season by far. Like every other year, I was super excited for Ash Wednesday to come around. Then I got the flu. Literally, on Ash Wednesday. And being out of work and stuck in bed for almost ten days has totally wasted me and eaten up my Lent. I lost my momentum and can’t get it back. I volunteered to write this reflection piece, and I don’t even know where I’d start, because I feel like I never really arrived in Lent! I’ve made my sacrifices and I haven’t cheated, and that’s going so well that I just feel like I’m performing with no spirit! I don’t know what to do.”
I finish my rant (slightly out of breath from the asthmatic bronchitis that developed from my flu), and like so many times before when I’ve been stuck, I’m just sitting there in the dark hoping she’ll give me my direction back. She’s actually still sorting through sheet music when I tell her this, and when I finish she does three things. First, she advises me to write about something simple, because frankly she’s tired of all the highfalutin big ideas. (Heard Nana.) Second, she walks over and takes her little black Lenten reflection book out of her coffee table drawer and puts it in my hands. “Start there, this is very good.” (Agreed.) And then she tells me this story:
“There was something Father Pat said once, an almost throwaway kind of line from one of his morning mass homilies a long time ago. Something about it kept it coming back to me over and over again. It was in connection to the story about the woman who’d been hemorrhaging for twelve days, or years, or something like that. She seeks out Jesus and finds him in a crowd. She fights her way to be close to him, reaches out, and touches his clothes. Jesus feels the energy leave him, stops, and insists on finding out who has touched him before he finally heals her. He tells her, her faith is what has healed her.
Father Pat asked: if you had the chance to reach out and touch the clothes of Jesus, what would you ask him to cleanse you of?”
I sat there in silence for a moment. My response, in my usually eloquent fashion was, “Wow.”
And her response in kind was, “Yup.”
I chewed on it for a second more, with my hand on my chin. All of my gloriously foul mess-ups, and cringe-worthy bad habits flashing before my mind’s eye. Yet, there was only one feeling that emanated from my gut, “ I don’t know if I’d have the guts to do it Nana. Honestly. If I had one chance to reach out and touch Jesus? If he was right here? Right now? No way. Not for all the tea in China. I’m sorry, I just don’t see it happening.”
Nana cracked a small grin. “You try to save everyone you meet Robyn. Maybe with the flu Jesus was trying to slow you down a bit. Put a pad to paper, and get out what he’s trying to tell you.”
Now that’s not what I was expecting to hear her say, so I assume she knows something I don’t. Which is almost always true.
“You know Nana, if you could stop being right all the time that would be really great.” “With age comes experience my dear! I wish I’d known at 30 what I know now.” “Well, I’m listening, just tell me!!” “You have to learn the lessons yourself!” “Can’t you just write down the cheat codes for me?” “Go write your essay.”
And playing the role of the obedient granddaughter I march my butt down to my laptop to type it out.
I haven’t always had the easiest relationship with my faith. But I rejoice now, because I let myself walk with the Lord. I have recently learned that he is there for me like a best friend. Bringing me joy, supporting me in hard times, and offering me honest advice. But I think, sometimes, I forget that at the end of the day, he is ultimately my Father. Without him, I would not be here. I owe him not just my admiration and my appreciation, but my obedience and respect. Truly, he has the power, and sincere desire, to cleanse me of all my human faults. It’s funny really, because I know
my flaws bring me farther away from him. I am so ashamed to be seen in his presence sometimes, that I run farther and farther away, hoping I’ll be clean before I have to face him again. And the real irony of it is, the only cure for my faults is to move closer to his warmth. To stand before him, totally human, and admit that I am wrong, and that I need him. To ask him to help me.
I try to think of what my real father would say. If he had the power to forgive me of something terrible, and I confided in him that I was afraid to call him. Too ashamed. Believing truly that I am ugly, and unworthy of love. Too disappointed in myself to ask.
And I can almost hear him say, “Robyn, I get it. I understand why you haven’t picked up the phone till now. But honestly tiger, don’t you know me? I have loved you from the moment I saw you. As a baby, I held you in my arms. You were my precious gift from God, my beautiful creation. You are my daughter, and the reason I know the meaning of true love. I hate to break it to you kid, but nothing you could ever do in your wildest dreams could keep me from standing by your side, walking with you on your path, or defending you from any threat that might cross your way. Anytime, day or night. Present or future. Please, please, please (because my dad always says things in threes), don’t ever be afraid to reach out and call on me. To call my name. I am so glad that you did today. Because it gives me the chance to tell you: you can release yourself from your pain. You can forgive yourself. Because I already have kiddo. No question.”
This is my Lenten reflection. Now, I am going to field it back to you, dear reader. (And I apologize to Father Pat and Nana, for what amounts to essentially plagiarism. Because unfortunately that’s usually where I get most of my good ideas.) If I could ask the Lord to cleanse me of one thing, it would be the fear of facing him. Of picking up the phone to make that call. What is it about being human that makes us so afraid? Seems like sometimes what we fear the most is the thing we should fear the least.
Do yourself a favor, and ask yourself this season, “If I had just one chance to hold the hems of the Lord’s clothes in my hands, what would I ask him to cleanse me of?”
It’s a raw question. You might be surprised what comes to mind. Never forget though, nothing is too much for God.
The story of Jesus healing the bleeding woman, if you’d like to read it, can be found here. The story can also be found in Mark and Matthew, though my favorite is this version from Luke.