(Then there was the one time I gave up hitting my snooze button. It sounded like a good idea based on the success my friend, Betsy, had the year before. For me? Major fail. Major.)
A few years ago, I began working at an Episcopal school. For the first several months I really struggled through the weekly chapel services. It was just so different than anything I'd grown up with. Things were read. Prayers were spoken aloud, together. There was a prayer for everything. For this girl who couldn't successfully get through a responsive reading at the back of the Baptist Hymnal, it was very different. Plus reading prayers seemed quite impersonal and lacking in meaning. But then? Chapel became easier. I looked forward to it. I started to really love the readings by verse, as well as speaking prayers that are spoken by so many others in the Episcopal church who pray the same thing on the same day. The liturgy went from odd to okay to more-than-okay to meaningful and powerful.
As much as I began to enjoy chapel services, it took me about three years to walk forward on Ash Wednesday for black ashes to be smeared into the shape of a cross on my forehead. That year, the bishop began his homily. And the Lord began to do a work in my heart. Here's an excerpt of what he shared:
Why ashes? They are a sign of repentance, of sorrow and remorse for sins, of the elements from which we are composed and to which our bodies shall return. They are a way of getting in touch with our basic humanness. Ashes are messy. Sin is messy. The cross was messy. The flogging and the thorns were messy. ... We cannot hide our identity. The ashes mark us. The universal Christian mark of baptism is not always a visible sign, but until we wash the ashes off, our Ash Wednesday worship visibly marks us as Christian. Christians ought always to be visible ambassadors for Christ--acts of love, justice, and kindness should make us continually visible.
That homily, that day marked the first time I had ashes smeared on my forehead. It was and is and outward symbol that I am sinful and messy. I like the idea of acknowledging that, of confessing that.
I walked away from the service this morning with ashes in the shape of a cross on my forehead. It caught some by surprise who didn't attend the service. It actually caught me by surprise the first time I saw myself in the mirror. The ashes were dark and imposing, even though my hair covered a portion of the cross.
This is the first year in a long time that I hadn't decided what to sacrifice for Lent. I stopped drinking Diet Coke in January, so that's out. I've been quite disciplined in my nutrition lately, so that seems too easy. Of course I could give up social media, but that seems so cliche. I prayed about it throughout the day. The one question I continued to dwell on throughout the day is: how will I wake up different on Resurrection Sunday?
This is the first time I won't sacrifice something, rather I'll add a spiritual discipline. On Easter I want to wake up knowing Christ more, loving Him more, hoping to be more Christ-like. Though this has been accomplished over the past few years by sacrifice during Lent, over the next 40+ days, I'll focus on my relationship with Christ. I'll be more structured than simply reading my bible passage for the day. I'll read and journal, pray and meditate on the Word. If you don't typically observe Lent, this is an easy, non-scary way to jump in. Here are a few resources that you might find useful: Journey to the Cross, The Gospel Coalition; She Reads Truth; Ann Voskamp; Praying Lent, Creighton University.
"Lent isn't about forfeiting stuff as much as it is about spiritual formation."