Death and life, sacrifice and celebration, west and east. The first quarter of the year is encouraging us to look beyond surface contradictions and see the single message of hope for our lives.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Christian season of Lent. A time of fasting and sacrifice leading up to Easter. People know that there is death in life. But what Christians understand is that there is also life in death.
It’s in this same spirit that we approach January 1 or Lunar New Year. New years mean new beginnings. As Seneca said back in 4 B.C., “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” To start over, something must die.
What things need to die in order for us to start over? And if we want the “do-over” have we really considered the cost? After all, we live in insta-culture where “better, faster, stronger” is equivalent to effortless. But if we desire change in our lives, it requires effort and sacrifice.
So what is the cost? In the Marines there is a saying, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Exercise is the prime example. No pain, no gain. You attain a strong body if you’re willing to force it into submission through movement that causes pain. So if we desire, change, improvement, glory — what suffering must we endure?
I think the answer to this lies in our relationship to death. To start over we need to let some things die. Those metaphysical deaths share many similarities with physical death.
There is a finality to death. When you close some doors in your life, it is cemented shut. If stay by the graveside mourning, it means you’re not walking away to start over.
Walking away from the graveside can be simultaneously grievous and peaceful. The grief undiminished is put on the backburner for the sake of the main hustle which is life!
Grief, even diminished, stays with you and is a part of you. In this sense, what you buried continues to live but hopefully you put it on the right shelf in your heart so that it still helps you live.
These contradictions are the heart of spiritual disciplines. This is why there is no glory without suffering. This is not a sinister statement. I’m not proposing a dualistic view where evil is necessary in order for there to be good. What I am saying is that we are imperfect beings in an imperfect world, but there is a God who is gracious and loving and is patient through our imperfections and powerful enough to help us overcome them. It is in the “overcoming” that we see God more clearly, put to death our suffering and experience glory. We know how this narrative ends. After death comes Resurrection.
Also published on Medium.