Marcus J Carlson

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Ashes to Ashes

Sixteen years ago today, on Ash Wednesday, a movie about the death of Jesus came out, The Passion of the Christ. At the time I was serving a church in Lafayette, IN. The best church I have ever served and one of the best staff teams I have ever worked with. We went, as a staff (with some spouses and church members) to see the movie after the Ash Wednesday service. As we were standing in line for the movie, someone turned around and shouted ‘why are those ashes on your forehead.’ Not what we expected in a movie with people of faith, but the truth is that we often don’t experience the same thing as Christians and certainly as people.

Tomorrow, Wednesday February 26, 2020 is Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is a church season, the forty-days before Easter, not including Sunday’s. I have never been one to get too excited about church seasons and for most people, even Christians they are not relevant to daily life and faith. I am someone who values seasons. In fact, there are five seasons I love: the seasons of my kids life as the grow up, the Christmas season (Nov 1-December 31), fall (my favorite weather, flavors, colors), lent, seasons of travel and the many seasons of varying hairstyles. Yes, I know I am strange.

Lent is famously known as a season where you give something up. While it is is a part of Lent, it is so much more. You should also add things in addition to considering the giving up of things. A couple fun facts: the point of giving stuff up is to embrace sacrifice. It also is meant to help us focus on Jesus, so if we give up chocolate, every time we want or crave chocolate or see or think about chocolate, we are called to prayer instead. Also, Sundays do not count. They are the original cheat day, the celebration of mini-resurrections. You are welcome.

Lent is meant to be a deep and reflective time as we journey with Jesus to the cross. We remember the story, we remember our need for Jesus. We give up to draw closer to Jesus. We should add things to life to draw closer to Jesus. Lent, for me has always been one of the more consistent times of spiritual growth. It can be dark, but is always deep.

This will be the first year that I will not be a part of an Ash Wednesday worship service as a staff person in at least 17 years. In fact, due to schedule, I will not be able to participate in a worship service or receiving ashes. At first I was a bit sad about that, but not as much anymore.

Life since the last lent has been challenging, painful and surprising in less than pleasant ways. I and my family have endured a lot of pain and it has taken its toll on us. We have found great hope in making good but difficult decisions at the end of last year and have been working through the transition with joy about 80% of the time.

I think for me, this lent will be different in many ways. I do not think (and certainly hope) that it will not be a dark time. I had a challenging 2-4 weeks after returning from a conference at Disney at the end of January. Instead, I expose this to be a deep time of light, of hope, of clarity of impact in this continued season of transition where money and changed relationships bring pain, but increased health, impact and direction bring great joy. Its the best I have been and felt in years, but I know I need to continue the journey. 

This year for lent, I am going to continue to give up the things that are toxic and unhealthy from my life as I have since going on sabbatical at the end of May. I hope lent finishes this part of my journey. I am also going to give up snacking after 8pm. Thats a tough one for me! Giving things up is an important and healthy practice. As a culture we suck at giving things up. We think people and stuff can make us happy. Even this morning my daughter made a genuine argument that having this one item would make her happier. It won’t. Making teenage girls happy…that would be a miracle!

For me, lent will be a time of adding more than anything else. I want to continue to add things to my life that create health, hope and joy. 

Each day I want to take time and start my day by giving thanks personally and perhaps publicly for something or someone for which I am thankful. I need to focus more on thankfulness. The scriptures, mental health experts and brain science demonstrate the power of this act.

My great hope for lent is that I would continue to fall more in love with Jesus. 

Lent will be a season of discernment as I continue to live into my new call and figure out the various things I am called to do and be and discern the ratio of time and effort in those things. 

I am excited for lent 2020. When we listen, God speaks. When we pursue Jesus, we find greater intimacy, life and hope.

I may not end up with ashes on my forehead, but I suspect I am going to end up with the most powerful and transformative lent of my life. 

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