Easter Vigil When You Don’t Feel Like Celebrating

Red Moon. Easter Vigil.

“It’s a celebration!”

“For some,” I wanted to say. But I didn’t want to be seen as a downer or as though I didn’t appreciate the significance of this special day. I merely tried to smile, and nodded, and walked on.

If you’re someone who also struggled to reflect the joy of Easter this year, then this post is for you. And if you’re someone who can’t understand how anyone could not reflect the joy of Easter, then pull up a chair. This post is for you, too.

It’s Complicated (Easter when you don’t feel like celebrating)

Easter Eggs. When you don't feel like celebrating

Easter for me is a complicated holiday. Its themes of death and resurrection, new beginnings and old traditions are deeply personal to me. They strike me in such a contradictory fashion that I am not sure if the correct response is to burst into song or tears. Sometimes I do both simultaneously.

At first, I felt guilt for this seemingly unchristian-like response. How could anyone be sad at the most triumphant celebration of our faith? But the more I pondered this, the more I came to see “complicated” may be the exact right interpretation.

It’s tradition now to greet one another with an exuberant “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” But that is not the cry that rang through Jerusalem that first Easter morning. At least not at first.

First, Jesus’ closest friends were hiding in a locked room, fearing for their lives. Women who had befriended, cared for, and supported Jesus carried burial spices to the tomb. When they discovered it empty, they did not shout for joy. They wept all the more bitterly for this even deeper loss. They pled in anger and frustration, “Where have they taken him?”

When Mary told the disciples and two of them ran to the tomb, they did not shout in triumph. They looked at the empty space where Jesus’ body had laid, and they went away quietly.

Confused. Waiting.

What We Know Now

We have the advantage of history. We know on Easter morning what the disciples did not. We know their heartbreak, confusion, and fear for the future are going to turn to joy… but not right away. First, there were a lot of complicated feelings that were the opposite of joy.

Butterfly in Hands. Easter when you don't feel like celebrating
(Photo by J. Canino)

We like to skip over that part. We want to say: Let’s run back from Emmaus and proclaim the good news! Instead, we must travel the road slowly. Before we know where it is going.

Like the disciples, we may experience the sadness of death even in the face of a resurrection. We may despair through deep loss even in the promise of redemption. We may keep the Easter Vigil like them, sitting through a long dark night of waiting.

These things are part of Easter, too.

We like to package up all the dark parts and sequester them to Good Friday. Darkness for three hours (and three days). Then, pre-dawn resurrection. Easter Joy!

We can shout triumphant today, but that doesn’t make the actual unfolding of the story any less complicated.

Easter Journeying

Lantern in dark - Easter when you don't feel like celebrating

If you’re like me, you may prefer a less authentic Easter. Let’s get back to the joyful part, shall we? My point in this reflection is simply this: Easter is a celebration, but it is not only a celebration. It’s a journey. It’s a transformation. It’s a movement from sadness to wonder to joy. It takes time.

For those churches who follow the liturgical calendar, the Sunday after Easter often commemorates Doubting Thomas. Right on the heels of Easter comes the doubt. I find this so indicative of our human journeying. Just when we make it through the vigil, just when there is an opportunity for hope, then doubt creeps in and snatches it all away. Yet even there the journey does not end. In what is still to me the most convincing evidence of the resurrection, we see the friends of Jesus transform from heartbroken hidden figures into the founders of our faith. Doubting Thomas himself is credited with the first explicit pronouncement of Jesus’ deity when he cried, “My Lord and My God” upon seeing the resurrected Jesus. Tradition tells us Thomas carried his Easter story to India and founded churches there.

My point, again, is this my friends: Easter is so much more than a celebration. It is a heart broken and remade, a life taken and resurrected, a loss cherished and grieved. Easter is a journey we take one step at a time.

Don’t minimize your experience by trying to only feel joy. It’s okay to feel it all.

This post was first shared at inspireafire.com. Peace to all of you who also had a “complicated” Easter Vigil.

An Act in Due Season

Black lab puppy in leaves
Black lab puppy running

I’d like to introduce you to Izzie.

Yes, that fuzzy little black canine amongst all the leaves is Izzie. And so is this cute little blur. This is back in the day when your typical point and shoot camera had a hard time keeping up with something as rambunctious as a black lab puppy.

 But before you start thinking this is just another cute puppy story, let me stop you right there.

You see, Izzie was born in a special kennel outside New York City for a very special purpose. When I was a senior in high school he came to live with me. And then he left for something even greater.

I had always wanted a dog, but my parents did not. They let me run wild with smaller critters –  five breeds of rabbits and two breeds of ducks filled my expanding hobby yard – but they firmly declined my plea for a dog.

Until I hatched the perfect plan.

My answers were standard: He’s not actually my dog; I’m just caring for him right now. There is someone out there who needs him even more than me. Of course it will break my heart, but it’s for such a good cause.

I would raise a puppy for a year. When I left for college, the puppy would also leave for school. To become a guide dog for the blind. It was a service project with an outcome they couldn’t refuse.

Over my year of puppy raising, I heard variations of the same question: How could I possibly give up a puppy after loving it for a year?

Today, I know the answer is a little deeper. Today, I feel exactly how those people with the wide-eyed wonder looked. I couldn’t be a puppy raiser now. But then, I was given the grace to do the right thing at the right time.

This makes me even gladder that I did it when I could.

Izzie and trainer with his “in for training” class.

Proverbs 15:23 tells us that a word in due season is a good thing. I think the same is true for actions. There is a season for every activity under heaven. A time to raise puppies, and a time to do something else. (See Ecclesiastes 3)

During this valentine’s season when so much attention is placed on the emotion of love, let me suggest we place some attention on the practicality of love. There is something we can do right now, in this season, that we may not be in a position to do again.

Let’s do it.

Whatever our hand finds to do right now, we should do it with all our might. Chances are it won’t seem like a big thing. It will simply be something that we can do, wherever we are, with what we have. It may even be something we always wanted that ends up being a unique gift to someone else… and to us.

Izzie’s graduation photo.

That was certainly the case with Izzie. A year after we both left for separate schooling, Izzie went on to serve as a faithful guide alongside his partner in Tennessee. His graduation picture remains one of my most prized possessions.

It was an opportunity I could have missed. That realization encourages me to look around me now. In a different time and a different place, there is something here for me to do.

Take an action in due season.

Letting Go While Letting Go

View from hammock.
This post was first shared at inspireafire.com.

There are always two parts to letting go.

Whether it’s a person, an idea, a dream, or a relationship, there is the letting go of the thing (which is a book unto itself). Then there is the letting go of the emotions that accompany the letting go.

If you’ve ever gone through this, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then stick this in your pocket, friend, because some day this may help you.

The emotions of letting go don’t knock politely and enter one at a time. They tear down your windows and doors, blow off your roof, and attack your foundation. They come in waves, first as one feeling and then another: fear, sadness, anger, resentment, jealousy, bitterness, resignation.

Letting go of the thing without letting go of the accompanying emotions hardens your heart. You need to “let go in love” as author Melody Beattie has said. Otherwise the dark emotions become an unforgiving root within you.

The question is: how do we do this?

It’s not possible to push emotions away. Like the evil spirit who came out of a man and brought back seven other spirits more wicked than itself (Matthew 12:43-45), trying to simply sweep away emotions often causes them to get stronger. Instead, emotions need to be walked through.

There have been experiences in my life where writing a single letter regenerated my insides. More often, I am still catching a flare-up several years later. Emotions are like a red hot poker. I keep circling until it has cooled enough to grab onto and extract. In the meantime, every time I touch it, I get burned.

Every burn is a reminder that letting go is not a one and done process. And every burn is a reminder that I need to consciously ask God to help me understand what I need to learn from this emotion and replace it with a more appropriate fruit of the spirit.

I am learning that one way to extract a burning emotion is to grow a new one until it is large enough to displace the old. Here are some I am exploring.

Replace fear with trust. The more I learn to trust God, the less power fear has in my life. Building trust takes time and happens so gradually I can miss it growing. I need to pay attention when God cares for me, because the more I notice Him working in my life, the more I begin to trust Him.

Replace resignation with hope. By its very nature, resignation seems to be an embedded element of letting go – being resigned to the ending of something I once held dear. Yet the Bible says we have been given a living hope. Even when all else fails, hope remains. Maybe not hope in the thing which we are letting go, although God may do something there, too. More importantly, hope in what God will do next. No matter the situation, there is a burning in my spirit that tells me that out of this, even this, God works for good. God can bring beauty from ashes. Begin to think about that.

Replace sadness with happiness. It’s not possible to simply manufacture happiness. But I’m finding moments of contentment can be a close cousin. Expressing gratitude for the simplest things starts me down the path of appreciation and contentment; feelings of happiness aren’t too much further down the road, even if I don’t feel them yet.

Replace anger with peace. The coolness of peace is as slow to develop as the heat of anger is fast to flash. I circle that red hot poker like the walls of Jericho waiting for it to crumble. There is no shortcut. Anger is the emotion that tells us a personal boundary was crossed or an expectation wasn’t met. We may need to step through and identify those foundational causes while we cling to the peace of God’s promises to us. He will be our vindicator. He will teach us how to seek peace and pursue it. He promises to us that He will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast upon Him.

There is a great exchange that God offers to us. It started with Jesus on the cross, but it continues into every thought, word, and action we express. As we grow the fruits of the spirit planted within us, He will help us to let go.

In letting go, we find ourselves clinging to that which we most need to cling: God Himself.