'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'
'Repent' is one of those "church" words that gets thrown around a lot, and I think it often gets misunderstood. Even worse, I think it's one of those words that gets used all to often as a knife to cut others down, to make them feel ashamed and less than. I don't for one second believe that Jesus ever meant for the word 'repent' - a word he used again and again in the Gospels - to be used that way.
'Repent' simply means changing your mind, turning and facing a new direction. Before anyone can change the direction of ones action, one must first admit that a change needs to happen! Jesus didn't want us to just acknowledge the wrongs we had done though, He wanted us to apologize, to say "I'm sorry" to God and to others we had hurt along the way. He wanted us to experience forgiveness, to be able to face the future free of the guilt of pat actions. He wants to forgive us! 'Repent' is a pretty awesome and straight forward word when put into that context! And for our Live Life Love Lent project, it was the word of the day.
You see, yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Unlike Shrove Tuesday, I've actually heard of Ash Wednesday. In fact, I've known about Ash Wednesday for as long as I can remember. But, knowing about it doesn't mean I ever really partcipated in it. I vaguely remember maybe going to a service in college once, but I'm not sure if I actually did or if I'm just remembering others actually doing it (because they mark your forehead with a cross it's pretty easy to pick out those who went to the service that day). Either way, I haven't participated in a service since starting to attend our church here in MO.
Just like knowing about Ash Wednesday doesn't mean I participated in it, participating in it doesn't actually mean I understand the purpose. I really, really felt drawn to this year's service, but I didn't want to go in blind. After all, how much can something really mean to a person if they don't understand it? And I not only wanted to attend the service, I wanted it to mean something to me. So, I did a little research...
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Since Lent was traditionally a time to prepare for Baptism, it makes sense that much of the forty days was focused on recognizing and apologizing (repenting) for the mistakes and poor choices made in the past. While Lent may not necessarily mean that people are preparing for a Baptism these days (for instance, our church does Baptisms in September), it still is a time for believers to focus on God, to draw nearer to Him. One of the best ways to do that is to say sorry! To ask for forgiveness! To be forgiven!
Love Life Live Lent published this description of Ash Wednesday:
In biblical times, people covered their heads with ashes, or wore sackcloth (a type of rough cloth) as a sign of being sorry for the things they had done wrong.
Traditonally,on Ash Wednesday Christians had a cross-shape marked in ashes on their foreheads...Being marked with a cross in ash is a sign of wanting to turn away from wrong things. It is also a reminder that every life ends.
After my teensy bit of research, I felt ready, prepared, to attend our Ash Wednesday service, to recieve a cross of ash on my forehead. I went into that service knowing exactly what I was sorry for and exactly what I want to spend the next forty days focusing on.
After work, I picked the boys up and we went out for dinner at Subway.
Logan was very excited to get to church. He kept telling me to check the time - he wanted to make sure we weren't late. I guess he was really afraid that we were going to miss it, though I don't know why - I'm hardly ever late to anything! In fact, I'm an early arriver! As it was, Logan inhaled his food and impatiently waited for Gavin and I to catch up!
After that we headed over to a local church for the Ash Wednesday service. And we were early. Really early. We had eaten dinner in record time thanks to Logan's enthusiasm! Being early turned out to be a nice thing though. We got first pick on seats and time to relax before the service started. Gavin was especially thrilled because he got to watch the male vocalist (our neighbor in fact) warm up for his special music that evening. Gavin was entranced the entire time - he loves all things musical! It wasn't long before more people showed up, including friends of ours who have children. Before we knew it, all of the kids (except Gavin - he needed to stay to watch the music!) were off in the children's room playing.
I loved every minute of the - even though I had to corral a squirmy two year old the entire time (he refused to leave my side). It was a joint service between our church and our "sister" church in town, so it was a blending of traditional and contemporary. The most powerful moment really was taking communion and having the cross drawn on my forehead with ashes. There's just no describing the feeling that overcame me in that moment!
On the car ride home, Logan and talked about today's "activity" from our Love Life Live Lent booklet. The activity was "Think about something you have done wrong and say sorry for it." Gavin, not really being a talker yet didn't have much to say on this one, but Logan didn't even seem to have to stop and think about it. He immediately said, "I'm sorry for all the times I played in school instead of working." This actually really made me happy.
You see, Logan has really been struggling in school with little behavior issues, and we have been drilling and drilling him and punishing and punishing him and rewarding and rewarding him. I just wasn't really sure how much it was sinking in, yet last night I saw evidence of all the work we have done as a family to tackle this issue, and it felt so good! After all, I've prayed and prayed about what has been going on. Prayed for Logan, prayed for myself as a mother, Justin as a father, our family unit as a whole. This, along with the success Logan has been having all week, just seemed like such a testament to God's faithfulness!
I shared with Logan what I was sorry for, too. After all, if I'm expecting him to fess up I should too, right?! There are a lot of things I'm sorry for, most of which his little five year old mind probably wouldn't really get, so I chose to share one that I thought he could really relate to. I told him that I was sorry that when I get angry that I choose to yell instead of speak in a calm voice. I told him that I was working as hard to change that as he was working to do better in school. We talked about it for a little bit, and at the end of the conversation he said, "Mommy, I forgive you." It was too sweet, and pretty amazing to get to talk like this with my child!
I'm just loving this entire process so much already. It is really bringing my family closer together and closer to God. I'm looking forward to what the rest of this Lent season brings us!