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  • Kelly Sankowski

The Challenge of the Spirit

Reading Mark’s Gospel often feels like running a sprint, because it is so action-packed and fast paced. Today's Gospel reading comes immediately after the story about Jesus’s baptism by John, when the Holy Spirit descended upon and a voice from Heaven said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” It drops the first two words of verse 12, which in its full version begins, “At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert.”

I can only imagine the whiplash Jesus felt after going straight from being told by God that He is a beloved son to an extremely difficult time of both physical and spiritual challenges. And the Holy Spirit was the driving force behind both experiences.

If you stick around long enough, I think everyone’s spiritual life feels like this sometimes. The Holy Spirit can manifest itself as either peace or unrest, depending on what the Spirit is trying to tell us. 

In my own spiritual life, I had many warm and fuzzy spiritual experiences while I was in college, starting to grow closer to God through my campus ministry community. I viscerally felt God’s love both through prayer and the people around me. I felt that I could clearly see how God was leading me. It was a type of “mountain top” moment.

But as time went on and I grew older, I began to sense God in a very different way. God’s love was harder to feel in the same way, and it was replaced by the sense that God was pushing me toward difficult situations and choices. Sort of like a spiritual adulthood, where all of a sudden I had responsibilities to attend to in order to build God’s kingdom here on Earth.

When I had grown comfortable with my beliefs, I felt God nudging me to spend time with people who challenged them. Where I used to be silent in the face of racism, I felt God nudging me to make decisions that challenged the status quo and to speak up (a difficult ask for a quiet people-pleaser!) When I wanted nothing more than to spend time with my newly-formed graduate school friends in 2020, I felt God asking me to stay away to protect the most vulnerable among us from COVID. And when in that same season of life, my husband and I found ourselves looking at a positive pregnancy test, I knew God was there, too, asking us to welcome life despite the chaos and uncertainty ahead.

Especially in a year like this one where Lent comes before some of us have even packed away the Christmas lights, it can feel like the liturgical year is taking a similar sudden turn toward the difficult. And to be honest, because the past few years of my life have been a season of a lot of sacrifice on their own – with COVID lockdowns, two pregnancies, and early motherhood – I haven’t taken on many additional Lenten sacrifices. 

If you, too, are in the midst of a hard season, where the Holy Spirit has led you into the desert, perhaps this year all that you will do for Lent is reflect more intentionally on the sacrifices required, or to cut out the things that are making it more difficult than it needs to be. Or, if you are in a season of feeling God’s love strongly, perhaps it is time to reflect upon whether there are any difficult paths God is inviting you to take in order to share that love more broadly.

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