Hope Rising From the Ashes

It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season in the western church. Tonight I’ll receive a cross of ashes on my forehead, along with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

ashes

Some friends told me the other night that they aren’t coming to Ash Wednesday service because it’s too depressing and sad.

“What?? What are you talking about ?!?!?” I responded gently. (I still have a few things to learn as a pastor.) “Good Friday, yeah, that’s supposed to be somber, but Ash Wednesday is all about hope.”

This did not seem to persuade my friends.

Pressing the Re-set Button

For me, Lent is a time of hope – it’s a forty-day period where we intentionally contemplate our distance from God: What separates us, how would we like to change in order to live more joyfully and become who we are meant to be?

Lent is a great “do-over” time. Press the reset button and try again. Where am I missing the mark?

“Missing the mark” is my favorite translation of the word “sin” in the Bible, from the Greek word hamartia; other translations mean “to go astray” or “to transgress.” (The word “sin” has gone out of fashion in many circles, thank God — it has been used for centuries to shame and frighten people, instead of to encourage and hearten them.)

Lent reminds us that God can get us back on track. God transforms us, and gives us the power to change the parts of ourselves we would otherwise be powerless over, including our thoughts, our motivations, and our attitudes. This is good news, not a reason to be sad! Of course, we can push the re-set button any time we pray, but I love the concept of millions of Jesus-people opening themselves to serious transformation at the same time.

Turning Around

Lent mirrors the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by the devil. (Google Luke 4: 1-13 if you’re not familiar with the story.) Ego, power, control, greed, security, esteem — all the temptations common to humanity were thrown at him, but he resisted and instead chose to be the beautiful person that he was created to be. He hit the mark.

So when I adopt challenging spiritual practices for Lent (more on that in a future post), I’m purposely tempting myself, building my spiritual muscle. I am practicing new habits that will help me live life to the full, as Jesus promised, rather than be burdened by parts of myself I don’t like.

Lent is about focus (on my shortcomings and on God’s graciousness and power) and intent (to accept God’s power to change my shortcomings) and repentance (another scary Bibley word which simply means “being willing to change” or “to turn around.”)

Being Remade

So OK, yeah, the ashes thing, the death reminder. I see how that could be depressing. But look at it this way: It’s just a reality check. Life is short. Live it to the full. Drop your crap and choose to be free of it!

I also welcome the ashes as a healthy dose of humility, a tap on the shoulder — “Hey, there was a lot going on before you got here, and there will be a lot going on when you are gone. You are not in charge.” That’s kind of a relief. My job is not to change the world or to change anyone else. My job is to work on myself, co-creating with God the very best Melanie I can be. I’m of no help to the world when I’m operating out of brokenness.

Pastor, heal thyself.

humility star

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”  — Mahatma Gandhi

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