Those words jangled in me today, with Ash Wednesday approaching and the question is often asked – what are you going to give up for Lent?

I’ve seen it all… some ideas more environmental like taking each day to live a “greener” life, and perhaps I should give up my plastic grocery bags… not for lent, but for life.

There’s the idea of paying it forward – giving something each day to someone in need during this season of Lent, whether it be clothing or food or even dollars.

Where did Lent come from anyway?  It is not a term used in the Scriptures I read, and yet I like the rhythm of it, the reminder that Easter is coming.  

I looked up “Ask Questions” and here was their answer:  Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). During Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit. It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to swear off watching television or eating candy or telling lies. It’s six weeks of self-discipline.

Which begs the question, What is Ash Wednesday?  

Here is Wikipedia’s answer:  Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day of prayer, fasting, and repentance. … Ash Wednesday derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants to either the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or the dictum “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

This hits home.

A week ago I recited those words, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as we laid to rest a young woman who had become a dear friend.  And I’ve been thinking about those words.

It reminds me of brokenness. A letting go, a reminder of where we come from.  Our brevity.  

 As I thought about brokenness I was deeply touched by these words from Henri Nouwen: 

“Our brokenness reveals something about who we are.  Our sufferings and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives; rather, they touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality.

The way I am broken tells you something unique about me.  The way you are broken tells me something unique about you.  

That is the reason for my feeling very privileged when you freely share some of your deep pain with me, and this is why it is an expression of my trust in you when I disclose to you something of my vulnerable side.  Our brokenness is always lived and experienced as highly personal, intimate and unique.  (From the Life of the Beloved – Henri Nouwen).  

It might be said that cancer caused my dear young friend to be broken.  Or the terrible accidents that happened in the last week also caused much brokenness…for those involved and for the families who loved them.  

We think of brokenness, pain, ashes in the negative.  Yes, I could easily give up pain for Lent.  I could live without suffering.  If only…

But this isn’t an invitation to comfort.

Ash Wednesday offers us a moment to reflect on what is broken, and to offer up to God what is vulnerable.  Ash is not simply a by-product of what was, but can be transformed into something beautiful such as glass, or nourish the ground, an essential element to growth.  

Ash can be used as traction, and we can use that imagery of God reaching down and helping us not to slip and fall.  God can use the brokenness of our life to bring us to transformation, something beautiful.

I see this as an offering.  We may give up something up for Lent, but there is an invitation to offer ourselves, our broken selves to the Creator who can transform us.

We don’t have answers about pain or suffering.  I keep going back to those words of Jesus, over and over again:  “In this world you will have trouble, but I have overcome the world.”

We live in the light of eternity where things will NOT be broken.  Somehow I don’t think we will practice Ash Wednesday in heaven.  All things will be made new.  

And that is the hope I hang on to, in a world of ashes, and dust and pain.  

I see beauty in people all around, the helpers, the givers, the comforters, the safe havens for those who need it most.

I see beauty in gratitude for gifts given.

I see an invitation to live in this tension of brokenness and hope, knowing that there is a bigger plan, knowing that we are loved, knowing we live in the cusp of the eternal.  

Jesus teaches us through his life, he offers us an upside-down kingdom where he offers his own body to be broken… so we can live.  This is transformation.  

This is hope.  

This is peace beyond understanding.  

Pin It on Pinterest