I have never done this before, I said. It was kind of a fearful feeling mixed with anticipation and a dash of childlike wonderment. Right after those words came out of my mouth I thought. "Nice, Beth. Seriously - that didn't sound too good"
"Remember That You Are Ashes........And To Ashes you Shall Return"
He said. Forming the sign of a cross on my forehead. I just stayed there for a while. Silent. Praying. Kneeling. Breathing.
I never understood Lent or Ash Wednesday or any of those other ceremonies outside of my Church of Christ comfort zone. In a strange way I was not only afraid of experimenting with it, I simply didn't give it much thought. Somehow I thought maybe I should look into it deeper. I was out of town and looking for a place to worship. Saw a beautiful church with a beautiful light on - so I went inside.
This question has been on my mind: What would happen if we gave up NO-THING instead of giving up some-THING for Lent? What would happen if we committed to 40 days of releasing unforgiveness or envy or worry or bitterness or fear?
Because of how God made me (aka "stubborn as a mule" as my grandaddy would say), I need to understand something before I do it. or believe it. or believe in it. Lent is no different. What did I find when I looked deeper? Humility. What did I read? This:
"He was led by the Spirit to go into the wilderness. Where the Devil tempted him for 40 days" Luke 4: 1 - 2. It has been set aside as a time of Self-Examination. Prayer/Fasting. Repentance. Humility. Self-Denial. Regardless of your background - how can that be a bad thing?
Sitting in the pew with ashes on my forehead, reading about Jesus' temptation and his humility - I asked myself. What is it? What does it all mean? People seem to give up everything from sugar to sitcoms to sex. But what does that really have to do with looking more like the Humility of Christ? I mean it causes us to be less of Self - I get that. And 100% Totally Agree. But Suddenly dots started to connect in my head.
Thoughts started flowing like a waterfall ...
"Why don't we give up the hard things for 40 days? The deep things. The things that are less like our Lord? Envy. Malice. Bitterness. Resentment. Hatred. Discontentment. Unforgiveness. Worry. Why? Because it's hard. Giving up french fries is SO much easier than giving up Fear. Fear of inadequacy or loosing everything or looking stupid or living in loneliness forever. We know how to give up McDonalds. You just stop driving through. But we don't KNOW how to give up Fear and finding out would take a lot of work. 40 days worth of work. A LOT of ON OUR KNEES, SOUL SEARCHING, WHO AM I REALLY, ASKING TOUGH QUESTIONS, SEARCHING FOR TOUGH ANSWERS work. Yeah, French Fries is much more fun. And hip. Somehow.
BUT Does it bring us to Humility? And maybe it's not about giving something up.
Maybe we have to do something different to get something better. Maybe to give up Daily Discontentment we have to really DO something DIFFERENT. Maybe to find Forgiveness for the first time, we have to take the first step of WANTING to show Mercy. Of WANTING to forgive. Not because what they did was ok - but because WE will never be ok unless we do"
Because doesn't it all come down to Humility? A God? A Man? 40 days in the wilderness? Without Food? Why?
As I look at myself in the mirror with these ashes on my forehead. I see. The answer. The unworthy - humble answer of answers. Yes, Lord. 40 days to look more like you? How could I resist? What can I LEARN to rid myself of to reflect more of you?
Let's start with fear. Fear? Silly girl. Didn't you just get back from "The" Congo? One of the most dangerous places to go? To work with former child soldiers? At the foot of a volcano? Leaving the day after there was an attempt to kill the President - again? Yeah. That was easy. Kind like giving up French Fries. What's harder? Giving up the need to micromanage my life in order to make sure everything falls into place to prove myself worthy of the amount of
Grace, I have been given because of my Sinful Mistakes. You see.....
I am ashes.
As are you. As are we all. Severely inadequate. Humbly so. So inadequate that we need God to sacrifice himself so we can taste fullness and wholeness and heaven. Sometimes embracing the fact that we are inadequate - that we are ashes - makes it easier to stop the "self-promotion, ladder climbing, is she skinnier than me, are my kids smarter, will I ever be enough?" game. Because we won't....... ever be enough.
Good thing He is. Praises for that. And for his creative abilities to make:
From. Ashes : )