Growing up my family would go to our Catholic Church on Ash Wednesdays. Like Christmas and Good Friday, Ash Wednesday was a non-Sunday church day that we always attended, no questions asked. It also marked the beginning of the season when I gave up chocolate or sweets, and tried to remember not to eat meat on Fridays.
I don’t think I ever got Ash Wednesday. For me it meant Palm Sunday was coming up soon (and we got our own palms at church that Sunday, which as a kid, was pretty cool). It also meant I got ashes on my forehead, which I spent the rest of the day wanting to wash off but thinking that for some reason they were sacred and I probably shouldn’t just wipe them away with some soapy bubbles.
I have realized some things since those days, and Ash Wednesday has taken on new meaning. Today marks the beginning of the Lenten season when we join in the story of Christ as he journey’s towards the cross. We fast because we join in Jesus’ forty days of fasting. We reflect upon Jesus’ last days in Scripture during this season, preparing for holy week and Easter. We may even participate in more low-key worship services to reflect the somber journey towards death.
Often Lent can turn into a time for “new years resolutions”. The time to start new habits or give up old vices and “turn things around”. I have found so often that I try to make change in my own life by trying really really hard. But that rarely works. I get frustrated, I let myself down, and change doesn’t really happen.
Instead, make Lent a season of surrender. It’s a season to give up. To stop struggling. And to surrender to God. Christ surrendered himself upon the cross, and in this season, we can also surrender ourselves to God and to others. This is when change really happens. When new insight comes. When it seems we draw near to God. When we give ourselves up to God in surrender of our own will. As Jesus prayed in Gethsemane:
And going a littler farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” -Matthew 26:39
One helpful resource may be this guide from Mustard Seed Associates.