Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a day of reconciliation, of being joined back together with God, of being reunited with the one who made you. This is a day of intentionally stopping to remember that we are made in the image of God and we are to treat others as the image of God. This is a day of consciously living in the knowledge that God made us, that Jesus came among us as servant that we might know God better, and that God continues to live among us as the Holy Spirit. Today is a day of reconciliation and being reunited. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Shannon Kelly, from Journey to the Cross
My friend Lisa and I were walking home from school one afternoon, and she was talking about what she planned to "give up" for Lent. As I recall, she couldn't decide between chocolate and chewing gum - big decisions for a 10 year old.
Because I always wanted to appear at least as smart as Lisa, I pretended I knew exactly what she was referring to, and quickly tried to think of something I could claim to relinquish as well. It seemed that it must be something loved, since I knew chocolate and chewing gum were two of Lisa's favorite things.
"I'm giving up television," I said proudly, the words "giving up" feeling foreign on my tongue. Remember I was a well-loved only child, and giving up things wasn't in my usual vocabulary.
When I got home I asked my mother what Lent was all about and why people gave things up for it. We went to church only sporadically in those days so there were some holes in my Christian education.
"Lent is the time before Easter," she told me. "Some religions require people to make sacrifices during Lent to remind them of how Jesus suffered and died on the cross."
Sacrifice - another unfamiliar concept.
Needless to say, I wasn't successful in my bid to give up television. Truthfully, I probably forgot all about the whole thing. By the end of the week, Lisa was back to devouring Hostess chocolate cupcakes at lunch and blowing huge bubbles with Bazooka bubble gum, so apparently her Lenten sacrifice had proven too much to bear as well.
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season. Since I've become a regular churchgoer, I understand more about Lent and the concept of sacrifice historically associated with it. In recent years, I've heard more people talk about using these 40 days as a time to deepen their faith- not by sacrificing some material thing or habit, but by increasing the time they spend in prayer or in doing God's work.
Putting a positive spin on it.
American's are good at that. As a people, we don't like the idea of sacrifice, especially voluntary sacrifice. So we look for ways to turn things to our advantage. I'm certainly no different. I may not be the spoiled only child I was in 1965, but I'm no happier about suffering than I was back then.
And if I have to suffer, if I have to "give up" something, I at least hope some good will come from it somewhere.
The devotional message I quoted above is from a website called Journey to the Cross, a daily devotional series. Shannon Kelly, who wrote today's message, talks about Lent as a time of reconciliation, a time to remember that each of us is made in God's image, and that we should treat others as the image of God. That's about as positive a spin as I can imagine for a season shadowed by the specter of the crucifixion.
But within that positive message is the need to "give up" some things.
Like our prejudice, our selfishness, our negativity, our impatience, our lack of compassion.
And as difficult as it might be to forgo chocolate, chewing gum, and television, letting go of those things can be even harder.
It's worth a try, though. At least for the next 40 days.
Who knows? It might become a habit that lives in our hearts forever.