Every year as Ash Wednesday approaches, I hear the same questions.
- Why do we need an extra confession time?
- What is Lent?
- Can’t I just celebrate Mardi Gras and be done with it?
- If I give up something for Lent, do Sundays count?
Personally, my mind always drifts to the ashes themselves. Why ashes? As people who struggle with admitting our wrongs and forgiveness, why would we use such an ancient tool of repentance?
Now, I have a bit of a fascination with building fires. *Campfires, not arson. I might have turned the raspberry patch in my yard into a firecircle just so I can build “cooking” fires on a regular basis. I can’t help it, I just love the process of prodding a flame into a blaze.
One of the unofficial honors for any camp counselor was to build a no-match fire. That means you bury the coals of a past fire within the ashes, so deep that when it’s time for the next meal, you can recover the flame without a match. It’s difficult, but I’m proud to claim I’ve done it several times.
Which brings me to ashes. Ashes are a combination of life and dirt. They hold all the past fires, good and bad. They help preserve the heat beneath them, anticipating life that will come. And when left to themselves for a long time, become an incredibly fertile place for plants to grow. While we embrace the dark and despairing nature of the ashes leftover from a burn, ashes also demonstrate the possibilities of new life and fires restored!
Ash Wednesday gives us a designated day to repent, together. We remind ourselves of just how far we really are from holiness, and ask God to forgive and restore us. We start a season of intentionally going without, of self-denial, so that we may depend more fully on God. And we allow ourselves the space to be transformed.
remove the sins
remove the fears
remove the hurts
Lord, remind us who we simply are, with ashes
As we are reminded that we can be restored, made beautiful
This year, I’m giving up French fries and desserts. Yes, I realize Lent is not a cloaked chance for a diet. However, my life centers a lot around eating. I’m a bit of a foodie. But I’m also a stress eater and a food dependent. I’ve been slowly shifting from that as our warm winter around here has lifted my spirits, but for Lent, I want to be intentional about letting God calm my stresses and sustain my life. (and losing a few pounds is a nice byproduct)
Whether you give up something physical, emotional, or otherwise idol-like, I hope you’ll take some time to probe what stands between you and life abundantly. Maybe it is food, or stress, or television. Or maybe it’s unforgiveness, overcommitment, or sorrow. Check out this list below for some ideas on struggles worth giving up for the 40 days.
Whatever you choose, remember that out of the dust of repentance comes healthier growth, fires restored to a blaze, and beautiful, holy things.
Comment below with what you’re doing to intentionally seek God and new life in Lent. I’ll be in prayer for you this season.