Wishes for Lent

ashes in a pileBy Matt Sapp

I wish ashes weren’t so messy. When you’re getting ready for an Ash Wednesday service, they can get everywhere. Once you touch them, you can’t touch anything else until you’ve washed them off. And that’s not always easy. It can take some real scrubbing.

I wish Lent wasn’t so long. Forty days is a long time. And that doesn’t even include Sundays.  I spent most of my life thinking there were ONLY forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Turns out there’s forty-six. Even if you don’t “give up” anything for Lent, forty-six days is an awful long time to spend looking forward to Easter.

And I wish Lent wasn’t such a downer. Why do we have to talk so much about death and dying this time of year at church? Isn’t church supposed to be hopeful and cheery and bright? There’s enough of the other stuff in the rest of my life. Why do we have to focus so much on ashes and dust and dirt and thorns and crosses draped in purple and black? Why does everything have to seem so heavy?  Isn’t spring just around the corner?

I wish life wasn’t so messy. It seems like even the smallest of mistakes can take over my whole life. The tiniest of errors can change my whole attitude until it grows into a dark cloud hanging over me. And it’s not just my mistakes, either. It’s what other people do, too. It seems like one negative thing—once it’s touched me—well, I can’t seem to do anything else until I figure out how to move on from it. And, let me tell you, it’s not always easy to move on from some of the situations I find myself in! It can take some real scrubbing.

I wish the uncertain periods in life weren’t so long–the periods where I’m anxious or afraid or lonely or depressed. I always knew that periods of struggle and doubt and real worry and pain were a big part of my life, but now that I think about it, they take up more of me than I would ever have guessed at first. Even if there’s no overwhelming sense of something wrong in my life, my whole life seems like an awful long time to spend looking forward to something better.

I wish the messiness and waiting in life wasn’t such a downer. Why do I have to spend so much time dealing with—or being the punching bag for—other people’s problems?  And why do I spend so much time dealing with problems of my own? Isn’t life supposed to be hopeful and cheery and bright? Why does it seem like I’m always replaying the heavy stuff? Why can’t I seem to dwell on the positive a little more? Is it summer yet?!?!

So, what if there were a way to clean up the messiness? What if there were a way to live our lives in the present so that we’re happy with the way things are right now? What if there was enough Good News in our lives—and in our world—to wash our blues away?

I guess what I’m trying to say is, “What if Easter is real?” What if resurrection is possible? What if new life is available now? And what if it’s all worth a few days—or even forty-six days—of preparation to grab hold of it?

But here’s the rub. What if the preparation for resurrection requires a certain kind of dying?

A dying to self and selfishness and self-directedness to make room for something new?

Would we still be willing to give it a shot? I wonder.

And I wish ashes weren’t so messy.

*This article ran on the Heritage Baptist Fellowship blog and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

Unique among friends: Creative fasting ideas for Ash Wednesday

This week is an important week in the Christian year: We begin the journey of Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 9th.  Lent is a period of forty days that leads up to Holy Week.

Specifically, Lent is a time to travel with Christ through the wilderness of conversion and transformation.  Remember the story in Matthew 4 when Jesus went to the wilderness to be tempted for forty days?  We too enter a wilderness place of the soul, and there we discover our need to repent.  There we find redemption on the road to Calvary.

Ash Wednesday is the official start of Lent.  It is a time to hear God’s call to repentance, remember Christ’s suffering by taking communion, worship, and receive the imposition of ashes.  (Ashes are a sign of penitence and mourning, a symbol that marks us for Christ and affirms our self-denial for His sake.)

Many people sacrifice something for Lent to get into the rhythm of self-denial, like certain foods or drinks.  But Lent is not just about sacrificing something, it’s a about replacing something with a spiritual discipline.

As you think about your fasting “covenant” for Lent, here are some creative ideas:

  • Replace “cursing” or swearing during heated or intense moments with patience and humility.
  • Replace sarcasm with words of healing.
  • Replace “screen time” (TV, computer, etc) with reading your Bible or personal devotions.
  • Replace broadcast nightly news with board games with the family.
  • Replace bickering with hugs and smiles.
  • Replace midnight snacks with journaling or prayer.
  • Replace ice cream with fruit and more water.
  • Replace reading romance novels with reading a book to your child/grandchild.
  • Replace nightly television with making up stories with the family–have each family member make up their own story and tell it using props.
  • Replace emails with hand-written notes or letters.

If you are in the Atlanta area, we invite you to come to Trinity Baptist Church for Lent this Wednesday at 7 PM.  We will have communion, worship, and hear the inspiring sacred sound of Diana Polisena.  The imposition of ashes will also take place.  Hope to see you there!