She showed up for work with ashes on her forehead. I looked at her strange. In my 22 years of life, I had never seen anyone with ashes on her forehead.
“Its Ash Wednesday.” I must have looked confused because she shrugged as she walked away and said, “ Maybe its just a Catholic thing.”
I had this judgmental view of Catholicism that automatically made me think, “well if its a Catholic thing, I want no part of it. It must be lifeless.”
But yet I was curious. Why would these people get up at dawn, go to Mass before coming to work, and wear ashes on their forehead all day long? I loved God a lot, but pretty sure I wasn’t up to that task. Besides, tradition doesn’t make you walk any closer with God…at least I told myself that.
At 24, I attempted to participate in Lent, but it really was just a way to encourage myself to eat a bit better. I was getting married that summer after all. At the end of 40 days, I didn’t see any real spiritual benefits in my participation in Lent. “See tradition really is lifeless.” I told myself. I never once thought about my motivation behind participating in the tradition.
Its funny how God always seems to convict me of my foolish judgments made in the past. Here I am, 10 years after judging my first view of Ash Wednesday, and God is pushing me to better understand the tradition of Lent.
As I’ve read, here are the descriptions I’ve discovered..
Lent is a time of sacrifice for Jesus
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer
Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock
The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him.
Nothing about those descriptions sound trite or lifeless. Once again, God is showing me that when the heart is seeking God, even the most liturgical traditions can be very life giving. I’ve definitely regretted all those judging words about empty and lifeless churches and their traditions. Its only if the heart is lifeless that the tradition will be lifeless. The tradition is just a means to an end. If my heart desires to seek God in a deeper way, the tradition of Lent is just a structure to help me do it. The structure doesn’t make me holy; seeking God above all else makes me holy. Sometimes it takes a set amount of time spent in self-denial to seek God in a deeper way.
So God has softened my heart and opened my eyes to the benefit of spending the next forty days intentionally denying myself and sacrificing things in order to clean out myself spiritually and prepare my heart again for what God has for me.
Happy Ash Wednesday