Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season. I’ve always loved this season for a number of reasons. There’s something deeply comforting in knowing that the God who created me is fully aware of my frailty, of my humanity.
God knowing who He made when He made me, when He made all of us, is especially comforting when I think about my selfishness. My selfishness which has been rearing her ugly head as parenthood inches closer and closer.
A couple months ago I was going through a normal mid-afternoon routine: ravenously raiding the fridge for anything I could shovel into my mouth as quick as possible. I’ve finally figured out the constant snacking slash eating every couple hours thing, so this happens less frequently. But man, when that blood sugar dips, look out and run for cover. I will eat you.
Anyway, as I was inhaling deli meat, gold fish and mini hershey kisses followed by swigs of diet coke, I felt a stab of guilt. There’s a baby in me. A baby who, apparently, will explode if given deli meat or caffeine or anything with MSG or high fructose corn syrup. I paused, mouth full of illicit goods, and mentally apologized to my child.
Normally when I mentally speak to my baby, he doesn’t speak back. But this time (I don’t know what was happening…again, my blood sugar was really low), my baby was a small adult in my mind and talked back. It was very odd. A little person with a baby face. I don’t know. When I apologized, he asked me why I didn’t make better choices for him. He asked if I didn’t take perfect care of him while he was in the womb because I didn’t love him that much.
And then it hit me. As my adult child baby was talking to me in my head, as my selfishness was laid before me, I got what being ash meant.
My response to my morbid brain baby adult child thing was simply, “It had nothing to do with how much I loved you. It was about me. It was my selfishness that I couldn’t manage and control. It wasn’t about you at all. I loved you so much it hurt. It was me, my issues, my crap. Not you.”
For the first time in my life, standing in the kitchen with a chipmunk mouth of gold fish, I understood the frustrations of my parents. So many times I have blamed them for their mistakes, for the things they’ve done that have hurt me. Didn’t they love me? Why did they do that? Why didn’t they do that other thing? Why didn’t they love me more? I mean, aren’t those the questions that drive all of us when thinking about our pasts and what did or did not happen?
I see, in my own, tiny, trivial situation, that whatever offenses I wish to hold against my parents really have nothing to do with me, how much they love me or how much they wanted to show me they loved me. Those things that I count against them as wrongs, those things, generally, were just them. Their moments in the kitchen with low blood sugar needing to shove something in their mouthes before they passed out or punched someone. It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t a direct front to me and my worthiness of love.
This revelation does a couple things. One, it makes forgiveness the only natural course of action. We are all selfish, we all do things to each other, who am I to hold judgement and withhold love? And two, it makes me cry with relief that God made me from ash and to ash I will return.
The Book of Common Prayer reading for the end of life is, “…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Often before the ashes are symbolically put on foreheads at an Ash Wednesday service, the administer of the ashes says something similar to this. Relief. God made me from ashes, He knows me, and to ash I will return.
There’s relief in knowing my significance is only valid as I am found in Him.
Because when I am faced with my true nature, my selfishness, my inability to forgive, my flesh, I want to run and hide. I certainly am not like, “Hey yes! Give me a baby! I am confident I will not mess him up!”
I feel guilt and shame and frustration at myself.
And then I remember that God made me from ash. He saw me, all of me. He knew me before He made me, He knew my son, He knew all of our days, and yet He made us nonetheless. And if the God of the universe can love this ash, then I can too. If the God of the universe can speak life and value and worth into this ash and love it into significance, then I am okay.
I’m okay because those kitchen moments, the kitchen moments like the one I shared and the ones that make other people cry and the ones that wound relationships and do the opposite of what love would, all those moments…they don’t shock God. They don’t even make Him turn his head or advert His eyes. He just meets me in the middle of the dirt and breathes life and love where I am dry and flakey.
It’s so like God. It’s so like God to use the frailty of life and humanity and even my own insignificance to bring relief. To bring comfort. That even when I am scared of just how many things I will do to my child that may make him one day question his worthiness of love, scared of just how selfish I will be at times, God just looks fondly at the woman He chose and made from ash. He looks fondly at me, His ash, and asks if He can join me.
And, hopefully, I will always be brave enough to say yes.