“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
(Romans 5:3-5, NRSV)
One of our all-time favorite movies to watch as a family is “The Princess Bride.” It is an entertaining, lighthearted, swashbuckling, love story involving a diabolical, self-centered king and a humble, handsome, can-do-anything hero. Of course, love and goodness prevail, the evil king is thwarted, the people of the kingdom are saved from deception and oppression, and the hero gets the love of his life, that being the Princess Bride.
One of the best parts of the story is when the hero and the Princess Bride are forced into the Fire Swamp to escape being chased by the king’s men. The Fire Swamp is a scary place full of traps and snares, all of which suggest a hopeless outcome. To call being lost in the Fire Swamp a struggle would be an understatement, for our beloved characters experience perilous situations, unforeseen threatening forces, and a significant dose of despair. But in the process, they learn how to anticipate the threats of the Fire Swamp, developing their ability to survive the clutches of that struggle, and find that there is every reason to maintain their hope for the future. Whew! … Struggles overcome … Happy ending (at least that part of the movie).
But admittedly the struggles of real life, our lives, are typically not what we consider to be so entertaining, as they are in a movie. Our experiences of real life struggles are much more vivid and in-your-face.
While we look forward to sitting down and experiencing the struggles depicted in a movie (and in the case of “The Princess Bride”, that could amount to hundreds of times), we do not look forward to experiencing the all too unavoidable struggles of real life which can involve uncertainty, emptiness, failure, and just plain feeling lost. In so many ways the struggle of real life is like entering into the dark wood of the Fire Swamp, with all its traps and snares, conjuring up feelings of despair within us, with no good outcome in sight. But the truth is, that our experiences of such dark wood are as critical for finding our way through life as they are unavoidable, for they can be the seedbed of a spiritual awakening to the fullness of life. The question for us, is how may we see the dark wood, and therefore life, through new eyes such that unavoidable experiences of struggle can lead us to finding our place of hope and direction in this world, especially at those times we couldn’t feel further from it.
And so, we will be exploring this very question as this year’s Lenten theme, beginning our journey with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 10th and continuing every Sunday as we work our way to Easter. I invite you to invite someone in your life to join you in our Lenten journey this year … it may just become the next source of revelation that transforms struggle to the wondrous gifts and breath of new life.
Peace and blessings to you, those you love, those who love you, and every son and daughter of God. Pastor Bob