Rhythm is life giving. We function according to days, weeks, months and years. We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, dread tax time and look forward to time off. The cycles we go through help us move forward and stay in sync with the people around us. They increase both our productivity and our enjoyment of life, and they are essential to the health of our society.
We see this truth throughout the natural world as well. Our calendars and timetables are based on seasons and phases, the perfectly predictable movement of our planet and moon through space.
Rhythm is a form of structure. In music, rhythm is the structural support for the melody. Organization provides space for creativity and beauty.
Even plants need structure to grow. Vines without a trellis rot in a heap on the ground. But with a little support, they receive air and light and are able to produce fruit.
In the same way, spiritual health requires rhythm and structure. For centuries, religious communities around the world have operated according to spiritual calendars that direct believers to participate in certain disciplines, celebrations and ceremonies.
Sometimes, when we aren’t paying attention, these calendar days sneak up on us. And we are often tempted to forego significant days in favor of our to-do lists. But our busyness causes us to miss out on some of life’s greatest gifts.
Today is Ash Wednesday. Unlike Christmas and Easter or even Mardi Gras, this "holy day" is often overlooked. Most of us overlook it for one of two reasons: we don’t understand it, or we prefer to only celebrate the “fun” holidays. I have found this to be particularly true among Protestants (of which I am one) who often seem to have missed out on the blessings of the full Lent and Easter seasons.
Well guess what? When you finish reading, we’ll both be out of excuses.
How to Save Your Family: Understand and Take Part
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, which is meant to prepare our hearts and minds for the joy of Easter. You wouldn’t show up to church on Easter Sunday without being dressed for it, so why not prepare your soul for the occasion as well?
When we think of Lent, the first thing that comes to mind is giving something up. We often wrongly associate this sacrifice with the idea that it will allow us to indentify with the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, or we treat the self-denial as something akin to a New Year’s resolution.
The true purpose of lent is so much deeper and so much more spiritual.
The whole premise behind Christianity is claiming Jesus as Savior and Redeemer. Why we would ever do that unless we first realize a need for a savior? What do we need saving from? Why would we need to be redeemed?
No one becomes a Christian without first recognizing their own deep inner brokenness and desiring wholeness. True Christians approach the joy of their faith with humble hearts. To truly experience salvation and healing, we must come face to face with the things we spend most of our lives running from.
And what is the number one thing we spend our lives trying to avoid? Death. As a culture, we are so afraid of old age, of sickness, trauma and death. Yet we know our lives will end with some combination of the above.
We also spend our lives running from our mistakes and all of their consequences.
Ash Wednesday is a solemn holiday that begs us to consider life’s seriousness. During lent, we intentionally give up the distractions we run to while we run from the hard truths of life.
This is why a traditional Ash Wednesday service involves receiving a mark of ash on your forehead and hearing the words from Genesis, “You were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
The service may also include a prayer from the Psalms, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away.”
From Ash Wednesday to Easter, we commit to searching our hearts. Instead of feasting at parties, we let ourselves be hungry and we remember our need. We choose to spend time and energy in prayer and meditation, reading and seeking truth, ready to let God reveal our weaknesses, ready for our hearts to soften and break from the knowledge of our own sinfulness. Then God is able to reshape our hearts, our relationships and our lives.
2 Corinthians says, “the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow.”
“That is why the Lord says, ‘Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in grief, but tear your hearts instead.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.” (Joel 2:12-17)
Why not drop everything you have planned for tonight and attend an Ash Wednesday service with your family? Do something special on this day - and take part in the traditions of Lent and encourage your children to do the same. If you do, I promise you will gain a new appreciation for the meaning behind Easter - and your life just might never be the same.