Lenten reflections: ashes to ashes

I probably haven’t blogged long enough to re-post a previous entry, but I think this one is worth revisiting. Besides, in my attempt to give up working entirely for Lent this year, I figured a good place to start is with reposting previous articles rather than creating new ones.

Actually, since I have already engaged in all sorts of work today and it seems certain that there is no escape from it for the next 40 days, I will practice a new, daily spiritual discipline instead of fasting from anything this year. I pray that your Lenten journey will bring you closer to the presence of God, a greater commitment to your calling, and a refreshed love for God, self, and neighbors, *Sandy

Late winter-early spring was different before I knew about Lent. I think that my introduction to Lent may have actually been my introduction to spiritual disciplines in general. Before when I didn’t know about any spiritual disciplines – besides praying and reading my Bible, neither of which were accomplished with anything resembling “discipline” – I didn’t think about any of my indulgences. I’m talking about the way I spent my money, the things I chose to eat and drink, or how I chose to spend my time. I didn’t worry so much about how I could be a better neighbor or even a randomly-kind stranger.

Those things didn’t matter to me because I saw my faith in Jesus as something very personal. I didn’t see myself as part of a faith community. Frankly, I didn’t trust a lot of the people I went to church with. I learned not to trust church people when I was old enough to have a different social opinion from most of the ones I knew – because they turned on me in ways that I believed were unjustifiable for folks who claim to know Jesus. That sort of thing happens more than most people would like to acknowledge. I am grateful that God continued to pursue me, knowing how I felt about some of His other children and what I saw as their offenses and failures. Living life as an offended person is not a happy life.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…that’s what most of us heard who received the imposition of ashes on Wednesday of this week. It sounds so “funeralish”. [My spell-checker hates it when I make up words!] But that’s what it’s about for me now: death and renewal until we get to the resurrection. I’ve been reading some of Fred Craddock’s sermons for a project and in one of those sermons, Fred said that he didn’t understand how any Christian expected to be invited to the resurrection party if they never attended the funeral. During this season, we have the privilege – all of us, collectively – to experience again through spiritual disciplines the suffering that Jesus experienced, even to the gut-wrenching death, all for the sake of our reconciliation with God.

So, in light of that understanding, I am compelled – more happily than ever – to let die some of my indulgences and stinkin’ thinkin’ as the Holy Spirit reveals those things to me. One of the first things that had to go in order to get to this place was my misguided notion that I could follow Jesus in isolation. A faith that turns inward is no faith at all. It is when we reach out in faith to share something of ourselves with others that we encounter Jesus. He didn’t stay dead, remember? That is a deal-breaker for determining whether you’re a Christian or not. We talk and sing about His resurrection, but many of us live like Jesus just died. When you encounter the risen Savior, the only possible response is to be changed. Transformed! It’s easy to change personal habits, but I’m convinced that only encounters with Jesus can change our bad attitudes and misguided beliefs.

I carry the ash mark and a small piece of sackcloth with me through this Lenten season along with Christians around the world. It reminds me of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, the history of the Church, and my journey with Jesus as I meet so many friends on the path with me.

The thing is . . .

Well, the thing is, most of us don’t have just one “thing” any more.

This idea was triggered by a quote I read from D. L. Moody: “Give me a man who says, ‘This one thing I do’ and not,’These fifty things I dabble in.'” I might be one of the most hopeless cases of “these fifty things” in the land. I confess my own frustration with being such a multi-tasker – out loud. I suppose I could focus well into just one thing, but I like to do different things. Obviously. Or else I am the biggest ADHD person in my family and, to me, this is absolutely normal.

In the course of any hour of any day, my mind is juggling thoughts and work in my “day job”, my ministry, my school assignments, my daughter’s upcoming wedding and all that must be prepared for that special event, care plans for my youngest child, any and all of my mothering and household duties . . . Man, I feel frustrated just by writing that list! Is it even possible to have “this one thing I do”?! Perhaps it is my womanhood that answers, “No,” and explains why Moody said, “Give me a man . . .”

Surely women are used to wearing multiple hats, but I think our current environment has led all of us – men and women – into this jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none pattern of working. Technology is available to the masses and moves us at warp speed. Specialists find themselves in danger of losing jobs they have enjoyed for years, requiring new training and career paths or long periods of unemployment, or the resignation to accept under-employment. We feel an insane amount of pressure to keep up with the world and our own marketability.

Moody’s quote made me feel badly about myself for being so “one thing”-challenged, but I believe his key phrase is a reference to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which, in context, really means something entirely different. In 3:13, Paul indicates “this one thing I do” as forgetting what is behind and focusing on what is ahead. It is a message to focus on our ministry-calling and where it leads.

Have you ever written your life’s mission statement before? I have tried it – once or twice – but I failed to keep it handy. I’m going to find my last statement and see how well it states my life mission as I perceive it now. Pondering and developing a personal mission statement will take some time and some real soul-searching. Having a statement will also lead to a need to spend time goal-setting based on the mission. Then, of course, there is the continuous work of turning away things that don’t fit the mission. The thing is, that “one thing” drives all my other things. So . . . this one thing I do!