There’s a muffin recipe I love that requires softened butter. If I’m in a hurry (or more likely, just forgot) the butter goes in the microwave. Is it 10 seconds or 30 seconds? Huh. I can never remember, so sometimes I open the microwave door to find a butter pool. But if I’m really on top of things, I plan ahead. I get out one stick of butter and let it gradually thaw on the counter. And then when I’m ready, the butter is soft enough to make the muffins oh-so-good.
Even if I wasn’t in this place myself, I’ve been a pastor long enough to notice that when people are facing challenges in their lives, they get specific messages about how to cope. Many of them are not helpful. They’re usually a version of toughen up, hold it together, screw up that stiff upper lip. Not only does this add tension to what’s already painful, it simply doesn’t work. When there’s pain, we’re not supposed to tough it out. We’re supposed to ask where it’s coming from, and why. Rather than tensing up or toughing it out, the wiser approach is the more compassionate one. Compassion asks: How can we soften towards this pain, this discomfort, this challenge, this anxiety? The thing itself feels hard enough. It’s time to go gentle. To melt a little on the counter.
It seems to me a core message of Lent is that God is in utter solidarity with every painful, sharp-edged, tough thing. We see God in rainbows and sunsets; which of course, God is. But Lent makes an outstanding claim—that God is in that tough thing already. And so when we melt like butter, whether we thaw on the countertop or get zapped in the microwave, God is already present: present in the soft, gooey core that we fear is weakness, but to God is strength.
Muffins are better with softened butter. That’s my bias, anyway. And so are we.
With love, Stephanie