I remember lying in bed when I was young and crying out for my mother to “Help me! My legs feel broken!” My mom would come running into my room, pull back my blankets and lay her hands on my perfectly healthy legs. She checked the skin and rubbed my knees assuring me that I was going to be fine, “You’re just having growing pains.”
With this explanation for my suffering my vivid eight year old mind imagined my legs were growing like vines beneath my bed sheets. I imagined my bones and muscles were being stretched like play dough. I was full of hope that I was growing taller by the minute every time my legs ached. At different growth spurts in my life I believed I was literally becoming taller and taller and taller…
Today I’m 5’2″ and haven’t grown an inch since I was thirteen years old. But I remember the pain well and I recall that pain whenever life slams into me. Every New Year I go through the realization that I have made it through another year and have yet another to journey through. I always wonder during these early months, what will this year bring? What will I do? Who will I met? What will I see? There is some anticipation and excitement with this new journey, a sense of fresh start and motivation. But there’s always a sense of anxiety and the lingering question: what growing pains will I have to suffer?
I’ve been feeling growing pains a lot in seminary, during this time of taking on new ministry and career possibilities. When I began seminary I remember thinking that all the people a year or two ahead of me seemed so emotional and angsty. I swore I would never let myself become like they were in my seminary career…hah, yeah right.
It’s been a hard process of growing, a process that I realize time and again, also painfully, that only I can go through. Seasons of growing pains are good and bad, of course. They are bad because they hurt, they are hard and we feel the challenges we must face in order to grow are too much to bear. But these growth spurts are also good because once we get through the tough stuff, this dead of winter, new life breaks through the surface.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the mark in the calendar for the beginning of Lent, a time to be reminded of our impending death…gee thanks. Death is yet another challenge, if not one of the greatest, we must face in this life. Lent is the season we are reminded that we are “from dust and to dust we shall return”, and in the meantime….may faith and grace be ever with us.
Jesus went through this in the desert, his own harsh winter, his own season of growing pains. It is his story that we follow as we enter this season Lent. Some of us will give things up, like meat and sweets. Some of us will start new spiritual practices and meditations, all in order to center our souls and face ourselves. It is a time where we are asked to face our own devils and demons. It is a time when we are asked to grow.
Lent can be a hard season. In fact a lot of people really dislike Lent. It’s “too depressing”, many say, and “why go through the pain?” As we have discussed, growing pains aren’t exactly the most fun of experiences. But as I think on Lent, I am reminded of how excited I was as a little girl, that every time I suffered pain in my legs I was growing taller. The pain showed me that I was becoming bigger and more grown up. And I am reminded of how much hope this gave me. To grow is painful, yes, but it is full of hope for things to come.
What might we become if we allow ourselves to face the pain of growing? How much more beautiful? How much more wondrous? Is it possible that we can enter our own seasons of growing pains with courage and hope? Jesus walked into the desert with one thing we all have: faith. Despite the pain we must suffer we can rest in faith knowing that God will return to us, like a caring mother, to pat our legs and assure us that we are going to be okay. We are growing.