Hello. It’s the first day of March and it’s Ash Wednesday. This is a very important day to Christians, of course, because it’s the first day of Lent. We have forty days (excluding Sundays) of “giving up” to represent how Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert where he overcame temptations from Satan. The ashes come from the burning of palm branches that were used on the previous Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, and they are placed on our foreheads in the shape of a cross with a prayer to repent or some form of a blessing. Some modern churches now have “Ashes to Go.” Yes, drive-by or walk-up ashes are offered to anyone on the street or perhaps to someone in the car on the way to work. I’m sure Jesus would smile at that! Most participates leave the ash mark on their forehead all day. In several places, this marks the end of Mardi Gras, where from Twelfth Night (twelve days after Christmas) until Ash Wednesday, revelers eat, drink and become very merry! Having lived in Louisiana for over thirty years and still seeing Mardi Gras here in Florida, I know a little bit about that!
We have a lot of choices during Lent. We can fast, give up meat, give up chocolate or any other dessert, but I’ve always looked at Lent in a different way. What misconceptions can I give up? What old hurts and resentments can I let go of? Do I hold bitterness in my heart? Or maybe I can receive something during Lent. Maybe I can try to be a better Christian, a better friend, a better wife and mother and in turn I will see surprising changes in the people around me. I can open my Bible more often and plan to read a new devotional every day. I can ask the Lord to show me something about myself that needs to be tweaked or worked on.
I always go on what I call the Lent diet. It’s a built-in time before summer to eat healthy and to learn to let go of excess. I have also added giving up material things to the list. My closet is full. Someone else might have an empty closet. I can share. Whenever I give up a purse or a pair of shoes, or a dress or jacket, I say a prayer over the item and picture someone finding it and smiling over it. I picture that person wearing the dress to a job interview or taking the purse to church. I pray that the items I pass on will help someone to have a new life and a new faith or confidence. I know what it feels like to want to start over or make a good first impression, and I so want that hope for others. It’s not so hard to give things up when you pray over them! My husband took the first load of Lent out today. Some purses, several pairs of jeans and dress pants and a few other items. I even manage to part with books! Sometimes when we let go of one thing, we find another thing to surprise us. This Thanksgiving Cactus actually bloomed in our home one Easter. But when we moved, I think it went into shock so I’ve only seen one valiant bloom on it in the last year. Here’s hoping I’ll get an Easter surprise since I’ve placed it in our dining room and pampered it a lot this year.
What will you give up for Lent? What will you give back for Lent? What can be given to you during this season of repentance and redemption while we wait to celebrate the resurrection of Christ? After all, Lent is our time of resurrection and rebirth. That might demand more than letting go of a chocolate bar. It might demand removing some of those layers that keep us from having an intimate relationship with the Lord and some of the misconceptions of being in and of this world.
I wish you peace and love during this quiet season. Tell me your stories of Lent. I’d love to hear them.