When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:21-22)
What a peculiar illustration for Jesus to share. And for years it has grabbed my soul’s attention to consider the way of Jesus and his Kingdom. Our world is filled with promises of pain-free, happy living and tells us that suffering is always meaningless and meant to be numbed and escaped by any means necessary.
Yet Jesus comes and teaches something completely counter-cultural that Christians have been embracing for thousands of years now; it is actually through dying that we will experience true joy-filled life. The life for which we were made and our souls ache.
Jesus gives this short illustration as he is preparing his disciples for his going to the cross to die. He wants them to see that the very worst thing any of them could possibly imagine is actually going to bear greater joy than any of them could comprehend. That it will actually be through the cross that the resurrection will then be possible.
To immerse and be shaped by this powerful truth of death being the way to life, some Christians have sought to engage in a season of Lent leading up to Easter. This year Lent begins on February 14th. Lent is often misunderstood to be just about things we are giving up or abstaining from for a season. And yet, that view of Lent has often led people to treat it more as a process to purify or achieve greater righteousness, this is unhelpful and clearly against the teachings of the Bible (1 Jn. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:30).
At the same time, we should not abandon practices and disciplines that help us be more conformed to be like Jesus and swim in the truths of the Gospel narrative.
Just like the woman in labor that Jesus mentions, we all feel the pangs of life and the effects of sin. We groan for both for our own restoration and the world around us. Lent is meant to position our minds and practices to remember just how much our world is in need of salvation. When we abstain from things of this world that tend to regularly numb us from how broken we are or the world around us, we then find ourselves with little appetite or awe at just how amazing the Resurrection of Jesus really is.
So what would it look like for you to give up something for lent leading up to Easter? Not for just the sake of giving something up and sharing that on Facebook but so that you can encounter and receive more of Jesus. This might be what Jesus was getting at when he told us that “man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God” (Matt. 4:4).
Just like a mom who holds her new-born baby for the first time, the cost of the pain is seen as minuscule in light of the beautiful joy of new life found on the other side. This is what it means to be Christian. We are good-news, Resurrection people who believe death has been stripped of its power and that it is through death we will have consummated the everlasting life Jesus has bought and given us.
My hope for you is that during Lent you would commit yourself to regular prayer and fasting (Neh. 9:1-3), not so you can say you did, but so that you can more meaningfully encounter Jesus and know just how much he loves you to go through the labor pains of the Cross to bring about eternal life and cosmic redemption.
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11)