I was raised Southern Baptist. This means a few things: I grew up going to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, I have been to a tent revival (white tent, funeral home fan, folding chairs… the whole nine yards), and I really only celebrated two religious holidays, Christmas and Easter.
It was only when I started teaching at a Catholic high school and attending a Presbyterian church that I discovered anything about an Ash Wednesday service or the season of Lent. My first Ash Wednesday teaching school I walked in and saw one of my co-workers with ash on his forehead. I leaned in, so as not to embarrass him, to tell him that he had something on his forehead. He smiled and said, “Dear, it’s Ash Wednesday.” I nodded like I knew what he was talking about and went about my merry way.
I quickly learned about the traditions of an Ash Wednesday service, and it is now my favorite church service of the year. There is something so moving about the service- the idea of preparing your spirit for the gift of Easter, the hope in surrendering your “ashes” for healing, and the beauty in the gentle touch of someone drawing the cross on your forehead.
Ash Wednesday marks the 40 days prior to Easter and is the official start of the season of Lent. As tradition goes, individuals either give up something that is deemed bad or a hindrance in their life or they start doing something that is beneficial. I always find it interesting to hear what people give up or what they add. You often hear of people giving up sweets or alcohol or something like that. The latest trend seems to be giving up Facebook. (I thought about giving up Facebook, but who am I kidding? I’m an avid Facebooker- they’ll have to pry Facebook out of my cold, dead hands. J) The idea behind giving up something is meant to be an act of purging and cleansing so as to refocus your spirit. Letting go helps us open our hearts and minds. Surrendering something, even if it is only for 40 days, helps clarify what has power in our lives.
I like the idea of Lent. I think it is good for us to practice intentional surrender. Surrendering and letting go are really quite the opposite of what we naturally want to do as humans. We naturally want to control. We naturally want to be in charge of our own fate. So often, we want to hold on rather than let go. We want to hold on even if we know the holding on is killing us.
What do you need to surrender? Whether you observe Lent or not, where in your life do you need to let go? What are you holding onto that is holding you back? What do you need to give up?
What if you gave up shame? What if you gave up fear or anger or caring about the number on the scale? What if you let go of second-guessing your decisions? What if you let go of the grudge and the resentment?
This Lenten season I want to give up fear and control. There are some things in my life that I want to control because I am afraid. I am afraid of losing them, of these things being taken from me. I realized recently that when we start holding on so tightly because we are afraid of something being taken from us, then we are in danger of that thing, even if it is a good thing, becoming an idol in our lives. We’re in danger of sacrificing our peace of mind and values on the altar of that idol.
When we start making those sacrifices, what we don’t realize is that we’re really not in control because that thing or that person is now controlling us. We like to think we are in control and that this decision or that decision will bring the outcome we want, but that isn’t the case at all. The relationship we love, yet we fear losing, ends up controlling the peace in our hearts. The dream job we worked so hard to achieve, yet feel there’s no rest in because we’re compelled to continue climbing the ladder, ends up controlling our schedule. The lifestyle choices we put into place to make us feel better, yet we still don’t think we’re pretty or thin enough, end up controlling our confidence and sense of worth. We end up controlled by the thing we are trying to control.
I want to give up fear, and I want to give up control. I want to hold loosely the things that could so easily become idols in my life. I want my hands to be open to receive, rather than closed in white-knuckled fear. I want to really embrace the posture of surrender because this is what I know about surrender…
Surrender is not weakness. Surrender is not defeat; it’s not quitting. Surrender is acknowledging where you end and the Power greater than you begins. It is letting go of the idol. Surrender is freedom.
What do you need to give up? Where do you need to let go in your life? Where would you like to experience the freedom of surrender?