Ash Wednesday Anxiety


As many of you know this week started the liturgical season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. (40 days not counting Sundays that lead to Easter) Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a day of confession, repentance, and sacrifice as we seek to follow Jesus to the cross. This Ash Wednesday I was anxious as all get out. I was tired, unfocused and generally no fun to be around. This was slightly problematic in that Wednesdays are the days that our Middle School and High School ministries meet and I’m normally the one with the energy.

All day I struggled with things like, what am I going to give up or take on for Lent? How am I going to impart the meaning of Lent to the youth? Essentially I was lost!…Then we went to the Ash Wednesday service as a group. We sat in silence, we made confessions to God that we placed in a fire and lifted up. We wrote down things that we saw as missing in our lives that we wanted to focus on in this season. During the service, I was still looking around watching the youth wondering if they were paying attention or “getting it” (making sure they didn’t cause to much disturbance in this contemplative service…I know, I know but it’s hard not to when you’ve been taught all your life there is a right way and a wrong way to be in church) .

Anyway…after the service we all gathered around in the old sanctuary of the church (Heritage Hall) on some couches normally used by our Sunday night gathering. It was great to see four middle school girls piled into a lounge chair, and see 6th-12th graders sitting together laughing and hanging out.

While we were there I asked them what Lent meant to them? what Ash Wednesday meant? about their experience in the service. Admittedly there wasn’t much response, a lot of silence and some awkward glances, but while I was sitting there I became calm and I realized what Ash Wednesday meant to me, this year.

For me, Ash Wednesday was a reminder that I need God. It reminded me that long hours, ubiquitous online communication, and “exciting new programs” where not necessarily the key to listening for God’s will in my life. Ash Wednesday, this year, reminded me of a time in my life when I was floundering without direction (or at least moving in the wrong direction), I was seeking to follow God, but my actions were getting in the way of my listening for God. It reminded me that I need to be still, chill out, and remember that I am forgiven no matter how bad or good I have been, God is with me.

God is the reason that I am who and where I am and it took 25 youth, 5 adults, a contemplative service, and listening to remind me of that.

I shared with the youth some of my experiences that led me to where I am, some of those experiences are raw. I felt vulnerable knowing that my life hasn’t always been a topic for “polite discussion”, knowing that my sharing might not be received by everyone as appropriate…but I took a risk.

A risk that we are all called to take on our walk of faith, as a follower of Christ. A risk that you take when you admit to yourself and to others that you screwed up. You risk that you will be rejected, risk that you will be chastised, risk that you will undermine relationships. I admitted to the youth about some of the many times in my life when I screwed up, when I wronged people, and the consequences that came of those decisions.

I can look back on that moment and can honestly say, I am not sure where my decision, where my words came from. I can tell you that as the thoughts and words came into my consciousness I thought “should I really tell them that?” I trust that the Spirit was working and that our group will be more able to be vulnerable, sharing the pains and triumphs of their life. I pray that our youth will continue to be real with one another and with their parents as we seek to find God’s will for all of our lives. I pray that the youth will be able to figure out for themselves what Ash Wednesday means, what the season of Lent is about, and what following Jesus looks and feels like when walking down the road of faith.

Blessings,
Greg

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