This post is a reflection on what living in China is teaching me about Lent—the six weeks when the church remembers the suffering and death of Jesus. I’ve also written on this theme during Epiphany and Advent (twice).
When I think of someone brave, I think of someone in a movie who faces great challenges with strength and spunk. Even if they are doing difficult things, they aren’t afraid. They are heroes.
People keep describing me as brave. And I can see where I could look brave from the outside. But on the inside, I’m not brave. Maybe I’m doing hard things, but much of the time I’m doing them full of fear. On the inside, I know every time I open my mouth in Chinese it might come out wrong and really embarrass me. On the inside, I’m trying really hard to not be offended by the taxi driver that says if I lost weight I could find a husband or the middle-aged friend who remarked that I don’t eat that much and I’m still so fat. On the inside I’m desperately praying “please, may the teller going to find another staff person not mean there is some problem.”
I’m not brave. I am trying to live life not paralyzed by fear. To “show up and let myself be seen” to use a phrase from Brene Brown. To live with my palms up, to use a phrase from Bob Goff in his book Love Does. Goff is an unconventional lawyer/professor/NGO director/writer/disciple. Towards the end of the book he writes that when his law clients are being deposed, he instructs them to sit with their palms up on their legs under the table. He’s so serious about it he threatens to kick them if he looks over and sees that their palms aren’t up. His rationale is that with your palms up it is easier to be “calm, honest, and accurate….Nobody can be defensive with their palms up” (pg. 204). He goes on to say that “palms up means you have nothing to hide and nothing to gain or lose. Palms up means you are strong enough to be vulnerable, even with your enemies. Even when you have been tremendously wronged. Jesus was palms up, to the end” (pg. 205).
Especially in his final week, we see how Jesus lived palms up. Instead of trumpeting his own greatness, he entered in Jerusalem on a donkey. Matthew reminds us that he came “gentle and riding on a donkey.” In the Chinese translation the word used for gentle (温柔）means “gentle and soft.” It is usually used to describe a woman. Being able to be described as a soft, tender, gentle woman—this is palms up behavior. Instead of heroically fighting off the religious leaders and Roman authorities, he did not resist arrest. He even healed the ear of one of his captor’s servants, that one of his own disciples rashly chopped off. Jesus was living palms up.
In this final week of Lent, I’m reflecting on how I can continually live with palms up, to face difficult situations with patience and gentleness, like my king whose “coronation parade” didn’t even merit a horse. To be in the place I’ve been called, to wait and seek God’s will instead of my own. To take up my cross and follow a gentle and soft Savior. I speak Chinese, even though it might go horribly wrong. I get to know people, even though they might say things that are (unintentionally) hurtful. I’m just showing up. I’m not really that brave. I’m trying to not let fear get the best of me, because “perfect love casts out fear.” There might always be things I’m afraid of or anxious about. But I’m trying live palms up and trust Perfect Love. It might look like bravery, but it is just an attempt to live palms up.
Photos taken on Palm Sunday 2016 at Chongwenmen Christian Church in Beijing