This month, we have had some great blogs focusing on the idea of restoring dignity (and more to come). Seriously, if you missed Anna’s reflection on February 2, you really NEED to take a few minutes and read it!
Mostly, we’ve been talking about how love restores dignity to the vulnerable. This week, as we look forward to Ash Wednesday on February 18, I find myself reflecting on my own need for restorative love. Only by receiving restoration and dignity can I offer it to others.
If you, like most people, don’t even know Ash Wednesday is a “thing.” Here’s the basic gist:
If you happen to go to a church service this Wednesday night (and you really should), you will most likely find yourself standing in front of a pastor or priest getting ashes smeared on your forehead in the sign of a cross. The officiant will say, “Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. From dust you were created and to dust you will return.”
I love Ash Wednesday, with all its solemnity and cryptic symbolism. I love it because it creates a contrast in which the miracle of grace and salvation shines all the more brightly for me. The grunt work and mental exhaustion of raising young kids and just being in the world so often leave me numb to the things of God. Scripture feels dry. Praise songs are dull. Prayer becomes one sided and shallow.
On Ash Wednesday, I try to feel again. The shame of my sin. The mystery of God’s plan. The awe of receiving limitless, senseless love. The joy of my salvation.
If you have access to some ashes, grab a handful now before you read on (consider making some!). Feel them in your hand, mark yourself with them, dump them on your head like the Old Testament prophets, or just let them run through your fingers. Now pause and pray that God will enable you to feel holy grief over your sinfulness as you read these verses:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Lord, let me feel again the weight of my sin. Teach me to grieve as I should over my pride and selfishness. Reveal the sins I’ve justified or become numb to. Show me how I have failed to love as Christ loved, failed to obey Your commandments, failed to listen to your Holy Spirit’s promptings. Help me, Lord, to understand what my sin has cost You. Break my heart and humble me, so that I can come to You fully comprehending my need for a Savior and fully rejoicing in the restoration and reconciliation You won for me.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.Image courtesy of Phil Roeder/ Flickr.com