If you happened to read my last post, you may have noticed an emphasis on death.
Well, I’m at it again!
This post contains darkness too, but [spoiler alert!] also finishes with a whole lot of hope.
Flash back to Good Friday [April 19th of this year]. I found myself in tears as I reflected on one of the stations of the cross we had for Good Friday worship that evening.
The station was really simple: wheat grass seeds in a bowl, a tasteful piece of art, a handout to read, and some bright green sprouted wheat grass growing. A dear woman named Daniela at our church put it together, and I sensed her wisdom as I began to read the handout.
Reading it, I felt all these connections coming on strong. It was a short reflection from the vantage point of a seed being buried under deep soil. The seed lamented being placed underground, cried out as it was cracked and broken apart; the tiny seed protested its experience.
Then came the hopeful turn: the seed realized its death meant new life for the plant she was becoming. Having grown up helping my dad in our big Michigan garden, seeds are not foreign to me; the analogy is a familiar one, an image my heart fathoms and my experiences recount.
Speaking of Good Friday [an attempt at a segue?], Jesus spoke a number of times about seeds. In his agrarian world, these images would certainly have made sense. In reference to his own death he said this:
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. [John 12:23-26a / NIV]
There isn’t much to add here: Jesus insinuates [it’s fairly clear to us now, but was it so clear to them back then?] that he was going to die, but through death he would produce many seeds, and it’s probably best to interpret this as followers.
Relating to the experience of the seed – and of my Savior – touched a part of my journey that I had not yet reflected on deeply: the past five years.
Ever since August 17th, 2013 I’ve been a proud husband to Kaile; and ever since January 31st, 2015 I’ve been a proud dad to Silas. We were prouder still to welcome in another son, Maelin on September 30th, 2016.
Amidst all this change, I finished an MDiv program, we also sold our first home, moved across the country, Kaile was accepted into and has since started [and now has nearly completed] grad school, moved again, I lost a job, we moved yet another time as I got another job, and Kaile has begun private practice therapy work in the Bay Area. The changes have kept coming and my ability to honestly reflect on them has been limited.
With the shifting seasons and new frontiers, my job has recently been rather challenging. Prioritizing youth ministry can be no easy task for a busy family in a buzzing metropolis. At the same time, I am indeed responsible for shepherding the young people in our church as well as, in some ways, their families. I’m also tasked with leading a missions board. We work to activate people to invest in our various local, domestic, and international missions partners, and we help to manage about $150k/year.
It’s good work, but it’s work that requires real attentiveness to timing. It’s work that I feel called to and passionate for, but it has pushed me in a lot of new ways.
One part of my job right now is helping support some seniors as they graduate not only from high school but also from our church context. Yes, they’ll always be loved and supported, but they’re off to new things. One of them, Laurel, is singing a song with me on June 2nd on the Sunday we’re praying the seniors into their next season in life.
Laurel is talented, thoughtful, and really loves Jesus. Her faith is strong yet tested; she’s been through a lot, especially considering her youthfulness. And she suggested singing this song, Seasons, on a day we’re celebrating the change and transition to something new.
It’s better to just listen to it on YouTube, but the lyrics are also below. Seldom do I find a piece of art that so perfectly connects the narrative of Jesus and the powerful promises of God to the everyday scenes of nature and of human experience. Despite my occasional allergy to megachurchy kinds of vibes, this song, with its authenticity and organic imagery, strikes me quite differently.
Winter comes for us all
Oh how nature acquaints us
With the nature of patience
Like a seed in the snow
I’ve been buried to grow
For Your promise is loyal
From seed to sequoia
Though the winter is long even richer
The harvest it brings
Though my waiting prolongs even greater
Your promise for me like a seed
I believe that my season will come
Like the low winter sun
And as I gaze I am blinded
In the light of Your brightness
And like a fire to the snow
I’m renewed in Your warmth
Melt the ice of this wild soul
Till the barren is beautiful [Chorus]
I can see the future
You’re the God of seasons
And I’m just in the winter
If all I know of harvest
Is that it’s worth my patience
Then if You’re not done working
God I’m not done waiting
You can see my promise
Even in the winter
Cause You’re the God of greatness
Even in a manger
For all I know of seasons
Is that You take Your time
You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child [Chorus]
For the sake of us all
In the context of the song, it is not difficult to make the myriad connections between the text from John 12. From death, at least from Jesus’s perspective, comes new life. That’s meant literally and as metaphor.
Flash back to that moment getting married at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and indeed the months leading up to it! It was almost six years ago, but that was the death of my single self. Those moments ushering Silas – then Maelin – into the world, that was the death of our childless selves. Kaile and Ben became “they,” a little family with all the joy and busyness of family life. That moment we sold our house and moved 2400 miles away, that was the death of our comfortable, anchored selves.
I haven’t had much time to lament those losses, honestly, because the next steps in life have been successively faster and more intense. I don’t have the time I used to, the mental wherewithal I remember having ten years ago. The faces of people I knew and loved in high school, college, even seminary, are getting blurrier; sometimes they allude me entirely. Often I’m bone-tired, aching sore from lifting kids, walking 12,528 steps in a day, emotionally worn out from the cycle of kids-work-church-marriage [and… repeat].
The song, the student’s life experiences, and the story about the seed losing its old self struck me at a deep, emotional level because of the many levels to which I find myself relating. My parents and some of their friends, in their late 60s, have spoken from time to time about how difficult their 30s were.
Maybe it’s winter for me right now; maybe it’ll be even more intense with each successive decade. At this point I just don’t know.
Now let me just pause to say this: I know every human being goes through challenges and struggles; and mine are so common. They are not unique – but they are my own. Comparing my story to someone else may put my experiences into perspective, and it’s indeed helpful. Counting my blessings and practicing gratitude is an enormous aspect of my spiritual growth [you can even ask my spiritual director – he will vouch for that!]. But it’s simply dishonest to pretend things are easy by saying, perennially, “there’s someone else going through something worse!” That will always be the case! There will always be someone doing worse and better than me – and that goes for all of us. Except, maybe, the 2 people out there are really are at the *top* and *bottom* which requires too much mental calculus to determine anyway!
And so, I am trying to acknowledge what parts of me have died. At the same time I’m observing how God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is bringing new things to life in me.
My married self, though exhausted, is more patient, less self-absorbed, more loving, humbler. My parental self is more compassionate, more generous, sacrificial in new ways, loving in imperfect way yet still more loving than I was before. My working self is is less self-seeking and more open to correction and accountability. My faith has moved from a set of unquestionable beliefs to a journey with a loving and supportive friend – and the emphasis has shifted much toward spiritual practices, less so on the list of unquestionable things to believe.
Just like a seed, God is putting to death so much in me. But as Paul teaches us in Romans 6, I was buried with Christ in baptism, and I am being raised to new life with him.
Like Jesus dying then being raised to new life, God is bringing out new things from the ashes of what perished.
Goodbye, old self. You’re buried. Hello new self! You’re being raised with Christ! The kingdom of heaven is coming, even in the cracks and corners of my little life.
I’m making the lyrics my prayer:
Melt the ice of this wild soul
Till the barren is beautiful
I’d welcome any thoughts or comments or reflections. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can leave a public comment below.