LeAnne Spruill Ryan: Death and Life and a New Mom at Lent

My Lenten journey through the wilderness is different this year than ever before. I am not engaging in any fasts of any kind. I try to contemplate Christ’s suffering and death, but the life bubbling within me makes this a difficult task

I am pregnant. 35 weeks pregnant to be more exact. My first born is a boy and he is due the week after Easter. I feel absolved because the Pope grants pregnant women exemption from fasting from any food (I wonder if the Pope will also absolve me for not being Catholic?).

But I am still asked to dedicate myself to prayer and to serving others. I am still called to engage in reflection of Christ’s affliction and death which brings the world new life. From ashes I came and to ashes I will return.

35 weeks

But there is life inside me. Life that jabs with his elbows and feet, stretching my stomach further; life that gets the hiccups; life that presses on my bladder; life that continually engenders my mind to wonder with excitement, expectation, and pure joy.

I can’t help but think of Mary holding her little boy in her womb all that time. Did she worry about swollen ankles? Did she prop extra pillows around her at night just to sleep? Did she send Joseph to fetch weird food cravings?

What excitement she must have felt knowing that God with us was growing inside her! There she could keep him safe. There she could keep him warm and well fed. There she could protect him from the world and from suffering.

In the womb, she could protect him from the cross.

As a minister, I know it is our calling as Jesus-followers to die to self. It is every Christian pilgrim’s duty to take up their cross and follow Jesus. I have taught and preached that the way of Christ is often the way of suffering. This means putting yourself at risk for the sake of others. It means leaving the comfortable and the safe in order to venture into potentially dangerous terrain where God leads you.

As a minister, I know Scripture and I know my own experience with the Lord. I know that we will not always feel God’s presence. I know that life is not fair and that the honest, the innocent, and the faithful do not always see justice in this world. I know that bad things happen to good people and that darkness and depression threaten to dim the light of the righteous.

One of this week’s lectionary texts is Psalm 22. The opening verse of that psalm reads: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (NRSV, v. 1).

The Psalmist begins with words of groaning and cries of anguish because he feels abandoned. As the Psalm continues, he is bullied by others who taunt him and his God saying, “Commit your cause to the Lord, let him deliver…” (v. 8)

You can hear the sheer desperation of the Psalmist who maintains faith in God as he cries out, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones” (v. 14-17).

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Did Mary know that her son would cry out as the Psalmist when she was pregnant? Did she allow herself to contemplate the suffering her son would go through as he was tucked safely in her womb? After she gave birth, did she hold her tiny infant, pray he would breastfeed well, and secretly hope that God would find another way than to let her baby die?

My son is not Jesus, but he will still be called to take up his cross and follow the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He will still be asked to go to uncomfortable places and to put others needs before his own safety and security. He will live in an unjust world with people who will treat him unfairly. Bad things will happen to him whether he causes them or not and I cannot protect my son from everything. There may even be a time when he feels God has abandoned him and his anguish is that of the Psalmist.

I became a mother 35 weeks ago when I became pregnant. As I continue through this Lenten season with the excitement of the life of my son to come, I remember that being a mother also means teaching my son to take up his own cross. It means to teach my son that the ashes on his forehead remind him that he came from the dust and to dust he will return. It means standing by him when the world is unfair and I cannot protect him. It means allowing him to go when God calls him to the uncomfortable or far away.

Oh Lord, teach me to be a good mother! Teach me to offer my son and his life to you.

“To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it” (Psalm 22:29-31).

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Rev. LeAnne Spruill Ryan lives in Hewitt, TX with her husband Scott who is pursuing his PhD in New Testament at Baylor University. LeAnne enjoys working for Baylor and volunteers through Dayspring Baptist Church in Waco to lead Sunday worship services for their neighbors at Ridgecrest Retirement Center. They have a labradoodle named Jubilee and will soon welcome their first child into the world, Asher David Ryan.

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