Forget, for a moment, the season of Lent. Forget the debates about obligation and grace and structures. Set aside the comments about what tradition you did or did not grow up in.
Instead, today ask yourself two questions.
Start with this: What do you want to change about how you interact with God and other people? Do you want to be more gracious? More honest? Do you want to be less combative, less sporadic? Do you want to be more aware? More intentional? More spontaneous? Do you want to be consistently caring? Regularly courageous? Simply present?
And then ask yourself this: “What changes in your own behaviors are you willing to consider to foster those interactions?”
Which sounds hard. But I think that the convergence of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day can help us understand.
Valentine’s Day is a day in which we express our love and devotion to someone. But imagine that the one you are devoted to is allergic to candles and can’t wear jewelry and still has chocolate from last year. You could keep buying chocolate, of course, expecting that person to change. However, in order to express the love you feel, you have to stop depending on what the ads tell you and start paying attention to your beloved.
You start noticing what makes them smile, just out of the corner of your eye, with the peripheral vision of your heart. You offer options and see what they choose. You ask open-ended questions like, “What would be a ‘good day’? Who would you talk to or not have to talk to? What would you do? Where would you go?” And you wait for the answer, for a day or two rather than for a minute.
And when they say, “A good day is when we help each other do the things we are each built to do, and do them better than we ever have,” we help.
Which is exactly what Ash Wednesday can be to. A chance for us to agree with God that “A good day is when we help each other do the things we are each built to do, and do them better than we ever have.”
And if you haven’t purchased Lent for Non-Lent People, it’s available in paperback and for Kindle). If you order the paper version, you can get the Kindle version through the match program for free while you wait for the paper one to show up.