This year Rethink Church has put together this guide for Lent. There are so many things that we could do for Lent and this one is a great option for those social media lovers out there. I talked about some other thoughts in my Pathways article this month, and honestly hadn't planned on participating in this one this Lent.
But on my home from our Ash Wednesday service last night I was shocked to realized that I remembered what the question was for this first week of Rethink church's guide. And as I pulled my baby out of his carseat, with ashes on his adorable little forehead I started to think about repentance. If you didn't or don't participate in Ash Wednesdays services, a concise summary might be: repent. That symbol of ashes on our foreheads, on my 1 year old's forehead, are a symbol of repentance. Throughout the Bible Jews and Christians alike have used the outward symbol of ashes to represent the inward repentance. Ash Wednesday is the start of the Lenten journey, the beginning of getting our hearts and minds ready for one of the most significant days in the Christian tradition. These thoughts aren't what I'd call "fully formed" so this is really up for discussion, but man, I really felt pulled to this today.
Someone commented to me that they felt depressed after the service last night, that it wasn't uplifting. To which I replied that Ash Wednesday isn't really a "feel-good" service. But it's necessary. I guess feeling crappy on Ash Wednesday is kind of necessary in way.
So what is a basic need of our community? Repentance, I guess. But no, that doesn't quite feel right and I realize it's because the kind of repentance that God talks about has been hijacked. I started to wonder why there's a resistance to repent, why it's so hard for me to repent of some things. I can definitely repent for eating an extra cupcake, or even for being more sassy than I'd like to my husband. But what about these things we really NEED to repent for in order to move forward, for us to be closer to God on Easter than we were on Ash Wednesday? You know, like, manipulating others (and God) for your own purposes, or hoarding resources, or believing and acting like you know better than God or conspiring to do harm to any part of God's creation. You know, those bigger ones. The ones that would really rock our worlds and set us on a completely different Lenten journey than we've been on before. What's holding us back, when what we really need is repentance?
My guess is shame. I learned a few years ago that guilt needs forgiveness, but shame needs healing. guilt:forgiveness. shame:healing. No doubt that there is and should be some guilt that goes with repentance, that's how we know we need to repent, right. But does shame have to be a part of this? Can we liberate repentance from shame? I think that's key for me because I get the sense that the reason that we don't repent of the big things, the things we NEED to repent for, is because we'd feel ashamed. That by admitting that we need to repent of our selfishness/anger/fear/fill-in-the-blank means admitting that we don't have it all together, that we may have a character flaw or two and that maybe our actions and motives haven't been lining up with God's (despite what we've told ourselves). And with that goes not guilt, but shame. Shame that deep down we might terrible people, that deep down we're fakes, that deep down we wouldn't be loved or accepted. See how those things might need some healing, not just forgiveness?
But God calls us to repent to set us free, not to shame us. God calls us to repent because it's part of the journey toward wholeness and life to the fullest. God calls us to repent on Ash Wednesday because God loves us. The basic need is repentance free of shame, the basic need is a way to move towards God, the basic need is freedom from those big things that taint our lives.
What's your big thing? Can you imagine what it would be like to repent for it? Can you imagine doing that without shame, without the judgments? Can you see the path forward without it in the way? Beautiful, huh?
praying for peace and wholeness this Lent,
(c) Jen Hibben 2014