Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Traveling to the cross



He had thought it was empty. He had pointed it downward, but when he pulled the trigger, the kick raised the barrel. The gun fired a bullet.

And his best friend lay on the bed bleeding heavily from a stomach wound. He later died on the operating table.

That was when my phone rang.

One of the young men in the youth group at my church had shot his best friend. Heartache, remorse, and pain poured from the boy and his family.

How would this young man navigate this tragedy?

Would his life be ruined? Where was God?

Thanks to the grace of God, the support of the church and community, and his personal resiliency, this young man rebuilt his life out of the ashes of tragedy.

But I have never approached the season of Lent in the same way since that year.

The Christian season of Lent is a time for prayer, penitence, and reflection. That event caused me to reflect deeply on the meaning of the spiritual life.

Two words abridge what I am still learning.

Both Martha and Mary spoke them to Jesus after their brother had died: "if only."

"If only" — an expression of an unspoken desire that surfaces in the middle of heartache and tragedy. Among other things, these words express a yearning to undo something.

The longing to undo a tragic mistake is among the strongest desires I have ever encountered. The bitterness of remorse, the fear of alienation, and the resulting loss combine to weave a depth of sorrow that is beyond expression.

That depth of sorrow is what Jesus took to the cross.

His purpose was to transform the terrible mistakes and sins of humanity. His death does not undo them; it transforms them.

The season of Lent is a time to face the things we desire to undo and to find a fresh outpouring of the grace of God. It extends from March 1 through April 14 this year.

As we journey through this season, let’s strive to become aware of the contexts in which we may think or speak the words "if only."

The goal of this discipline is not to eliminate the words "if only" from our thoughts and vocabularies. Instead, it is to help us understand our thoughts and feelings.

With new awareness, we can move forward in life.

Moving forward in our spiritual lives means that we move on from the past. We are powerless to undo anything that has already happened. However, we can release to God those "if only" things that are obstacles to grace. God’s grace offers new beginnings.

New beginnings arise from new questions. A fresh question asks, "What is now possible because of this?"

The power of that question lifts us beyond the immediate circumstance. It opens a door to new possibilities.

It plants seeds of transformation.

If we can experience what we thought was impossible, it will change our faith, enrich our lives, and transform the world.


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