None of us like to suffer. None of us willingly embrace struggles. None of us freely choose to deny ourselves that which we most desire. We just don’t. The happy, successful, easy, self-fulfilled life is what we eagerly seek, long for, and even expect. All too often the entire trajectory of our lives reverts to simply avoiding pain and attaining self-importance. Day after day we struggle along, grasping for that which satisfies.
Day after day. Day after day. Day after day.
And so it continues. A relentless and self-absorbed striving for bigger, greater, more. Day after day. Bigger. Day after day. Greater. Day after day. More.
Today, however, is a new day. A day which invites us to yield. To pause. To reflect. To rethink. Today is Ash Wednesday.
Depending on your faith background, Ash Wednesday may not be a meaningful, or even known, practice. Depending on your perspective, Ash Wednesday may not be entertained as an option for you. But before you argue too definitively against the potential significance of Ash Wednesday in your own life, yield for just a moment.
Ash Wednesday begins the liturgical season of Lent – a 40-day preparation of oneself for the glorious celebration of Easter. Although this observation is not biblically mandated or described, Lent has traditionally served as a significant time of repentance, prayer, and fasting. In our fast-paced, it’s-all-about-me world, any break that causes us to divert our attention from ourselves to God cannot be a bad thing.
Far from an ancient, meaningless artifact of traditionalism, Lent offers each of us the occasion to give, not get, for forty days. Giving becomes the focus of Lent in three ways:
1. Give over. I admit it. I like to be in control. I am very comfortable in the driver seat of my own life, and often relegate Jesus to sitting in the passenger seat or even trunk. When life’s road is smooth and easy, I too quickly leave God behind, only calling upon Him when I become lost or the road becomes too difficult to traverse. But the reality is, we are all utterly dependent on God – everyday. Our very breath of life is from God; ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28) So as we celebrate Lent, we remind ourselves as to who is truly in control. It isn’t just about begrudgingly giving over control, but rather, admitting our reliance and need for God. Lent is a solemn reflection of just how much we truly need God in our lives. How comfortable are you giving over control to God? What is your need for Him this Lenten season?
2. Give up. I don’t know about you, but it’s usually pretty easy to admit my reliance on God when I’m in the middle of a worship service or prayer time. I can give over control fairly easily. But as soon as I’m inundated with the daily pressures of life, I somehow lose focus and follow-through. Lent offers us the opportunity to daily be reminded of our dependence on God by inviting us to give up. We give up, or fast, from something which we enjoy or desire for the forty days of Lent. It isn’t that fasting from chocolate, coffee or Facebook earns us forgiveness, salvation or “extra credit” with God. But, the act of denying oneself is a simple, yet potentially profound, act of choosing God over that which vies for our attention and adoration. Each time I hunger after chocolate, thirst for coffee, or yearn for Facebook interactions, but choose God instead, I am giving up a piece of my self-absorbed life, declaring boldly that God is my ultimate desire. What might you give up this Lent? What is absorbing attention and focus that you could redirect to God?
3. Give away. If you were to give up your daily double-shot peppermint mocha from the drive-thru espresso shop for the next forty days, just how much money would you save? If your nightly indulgence of ice cream, or weekly eBay shopping sprees were curtailed during Lent, how many extra dollars would remain in your bank account? Lent offers us the chance to not only give over control to God, by admitting our desperate need for Him; Lent is more than giving up that which we most desire instead of God; Lent is also about giving away. What need in your neighborhood, your community, your nation or your world has captured your attention? What wrong do you wish to right? As we give over control to God, and give up that which competes for our desires, we willingly and cheerfully give away our money and time. Nickels and dimes that you save can be given to a charitable organization. Time saved by not watching tv, playing video games or playing on Facebook can be given through your volunteer service. How might you give away this Lenten season?
Today is Ash Wednesday. A day in which we’re invited to give – to give over, give up and give away. And as we give, we yield our craziness, our busyness, and our self-absorbed lives to the One who holds us in His hand.
Today is a new day. A day which invites us to yield. To pause. To reflect. To rethink. Today is Ash Wednesday.
How will you yield?
(By Kristen Marble at kristenmarble.com)