The "Good" of Good Friday

I always wondered why Good Friday was called "good," considering there's nothing good about it.

In Christian terms, it's when Jesus suffers and dies. It marks the epitome of his suffering, and it's dramatic. Watch any film or made-for-tv movie and it becomes apparent, even if you do not practice religion or share a particular belief, that this day is dark.

Let's be real: this part of the story is fucked up. Some guy gets nails put through his hands, hangs from a wooden cross -- all supposedly for the sins of mankind? Dark, stormy clouds. Mocking, jeering soldiers ripping apart a dying man's belongings and drinking wine indifferently. Cries of pain and anguish as a mother watches her son slowly die. 

Dark. So it makes sense that as Christians, most of us are like -- no thanks, Good Friday, I'll pass. I know how that scene rolls and I don't like it. Get me to Easter, pronto.

Easter is way better. It's full of flowers and new life and hope and rising up and against all odds magic and fresh air and Reese's peanut butter cup eggs (I overhead someone once say all candy is better in an egg shape, and I have to agree). It's going to church in a brand new outfit, eating lunch with family and friends, spring cleaning of the soul and a chance for everything to be good and pure again. Easter is fun, y'all. Let's hang out on Easter always.

But Easter is . . . easy. A joyful relief, but easy. What I've learned is that you can't appreciate the newness and grace of Easter without experiencing the sorrow and horror of Good Friday. It doesn't work that way. Not in the Bible and not in our lives. And maybe you don't believe in God or practice a religion; that's cool. You still know what I mean by this. All humans are familiar with both darkness and light, with mistakes and forgiveness, with growth and change.

Last night I had dinner with a new friend, Haverlee (yes, she is as cool as her name sounds). We spoke a lot about grace and redemption. About patterns of dishonesty and justification and shame and guilt. And about how easy it is to stay stuck, to remain in the dark and assume that you belong there. (What, you don't talk about these things with new friends? Ha. Grateful that she and I belong in the same boat of "Hi, tell me your whole life story please, and I'll sit and listen and share when possible.")

Then this morning, after teaching bright and early, I listened to Mumford & Sons on the way to work and heard these lyrics: 

Mary Oliver wrote, "Someone I loved once gave me a box of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift."

And yet, we wouldn't ever choose darkness. Darkness isn't a gift; we don't prefer it. Who would? We aim to be good and we strive to please and we want everything to go well and we shoot for perfection and damn it if we don't feel entitled to all of it.

When bad things happen, or we make a royal mess out of our lives, we react in one of two ways: we run fast or we fall down. We swallow our darkness in whatever shape -- terrible things that have happened to us, awful things that we've done -- and try to pretend like it didn't happen. Or we lay in a pit of our own dishonesty, manipulation, addiction, justification, apathy, grief, whatever it is.

Sadly, some of us never leave this place; for some of us, we literally cannot see the light, not even a single spark, and this can often lead to deeper struggle in the form of depression or suicide. Or we keep pounding our feet frantically. We stay crazy busy: full calendars, social expectations, nonstop work. We numb out and shut down. We pick something to help us keep the darkness at bay: romance, sex, booze, exercise, food or lack thereof, drugs, success. It's easier not to feel, sometimes. I get that, I've been there. 

The places of darkness in your life, your Good Friday -- it's not a pleasant place to be. 

So what's the good? Why pay attention to the dark? And if you're down in the dark, how do you get out?

Well, first, you breathe. And then you ask for help. And then you tell the (whole) truth. This is where the work begins. In yoga, this is what teachers mean when they say that the "yoga" starts after a few moments in a certain pose; change happens when you stay for a breath longer than you think you can. 

I've found that confession in general gets a bad rap. Society teaches us to watch out for ourselves, first and foremost. To protect the ego. To look good. I was raised in the opposite direction. My parents always said, "Tell the truth and you'll get in less trouble." I didn't listen to this every time, of course, but I learned pretty quick that while owning up to a mistake sucked, having to admit to lying about it made things ten times worse. So in our house, we told the truth. My parents didn't hesitate to ground us, or note their disappointment, or be straight up angry, but they were clear in their forgiveness, and open in their pride about our ability to be honest.

I'm grateful for that confidence about confession, because telling the truth is powerful and important. And not enough of us do it. I don't do it all the time, either; I find myself resisting truth even in the times I know better.

Kate Conner writes about honesty beautifully; she says in a blog post (that you should read if you have the time):

We tend to believe honesty will isolate us - that if we tell the real, honest truth everyone will jump ship, lest they be marred by association with our dirty selves. But that’s the fear talking. Honesty never isolates as much as lies do.

If you think for one second that you are protecting yourself and your loved ones by keeping your darkness (in any form) hidden from view, you are wrong. You are so wrong.

Telling the truth takes regular practice. One of my dark patterns is and has been people-pleasing, and that sometimes involves the desire to twist the story a little bit, or keep the stories I don't like as much deep down in my heart.* Such withholding distorts reality, and I end up further away from the people I love, and from my truest self -- which is the opposite of what I want: love and connection. I know this, but I forget it.

And what I've learned, through many mistakes and years of effort, is that if I don't pay attention to these tendencies, these habits, it becomes easy to slip.

If you've never messed up, if you've never hit rock bottom, if you've never gotten to a point where all you can think is This is not at all what I thought my life would be like -- then it's hard to understand the grace of darkness. 

So back to our original question: what's good about Good Friday? What's the gift in darkness? If Good Friday represents pain and sorrow and loss and failure, what can possibly be good about all of that?

Because if you are in the darkness, there is hope that you will see the light. Every moment, every day, every breath, is an opportunity for change and wholeness. For grace and redemption. You just have to look for it.

Hope and light do not come easy, let me be clear on that. All the times where I've told the truth, where I've confronted my darkness, have been literally some of the worst moments of my life. 

And yet.

When you face your darkness, however it shows up, you are taking one step forward toward growth and freedom. You find that you can sleep better at night with a clear conscience. You discover that even though you wouldn't ask for what happened to you, or you wouldn't repeat the mistakes you've made, those experiences have shaped you. For better or worse. And you get to choose the former, if you feel so inclined, because these are your stories, and you're in control of the narrative.

This year, don't skip Good Friday and rush to Easter. (If you're Christian, I mean that more literally, and if you're not, take it as "don't bypass the hard parts to get to the good stuff." Same sentiment applies.)  Take stock of the darkness in your life -- the things that make you feel heavy or compromised or less-than or inauthentic, or the things that make you cry out with shame and guilt or deep sorrow -- and trust that now is as good a time as any for change. Tell the whole truth. Wait. Offer yourself grace. Face your demons. Let them die and be done. Ask for help. Gather up your lessons and take a step forward. Forgive. Allow yourself a new day.

Find hope. In the darkness. So that you may see the light.

*My story is just one small example of darkness, and it feels minor in comparison to those who struggle with alcoholism or abuse or much heavier subjects. All stories share these themes of darkness and light, and yet they remain unique in their details. Let's respect those differences.