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Ashes to ashes

Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season, a period of prayer and fasting for many Christians, the forehead marked with ashes, a memorial for the death of Jesus. Lent was once a period of rigorous fasting and abstinence, but contemporary Lent is often a time to give up an indulgence or a luxury habit, like beer or chocolate. In Ireland, Ash Wednesday is the National No Smoking day. Lent also mirrors the 40 days Jesus wandered in the desert being tempted by Satan. Over the years, I have elected to “sacrifice” for Lent a behavior, a thing that serves The Enemy and keeps me from drawing or remaining close to God. There are behaviors and conditioned responses to things that are very much like “indulgences”. If we give them an audience, they can damage our faith and separate us from the True path for our life. That first year, instead of giving up chocolate, I “sacrificed” pessimism. It sounds funny but pessimism eats hope, collapsing our faith in the world….in God’s purpose. I am innately a very optimistic, almost idealistic person. As a child….even sitting in my interview for medical school….I was seen as an idealistic dreamer. People said….when you grow up, you’ll get your head out of the clouds. Indeed, as I have grown up, I am far less likely to gaze dreamily at the clouds but rather, I stare at my feet on the ground, intent on avoiding the misstep. But pessimism, cynicism and skepticism are all fueled by doubt and fear. And of all the commandments given to us my Jesus during his ministry “Do not fear” is the most common. And through that first Lenten season…..and for many years since, I return to that promise to give up pessimism. Other years I have “sacrificed” fear, criticism, anxiety and doubt.

This year, I have struggled with what to sacrifice. It would be easier to just quit chocolate or Diet Coke for 40 days. But, I want to try to sacrifice something I would like to shed and leave behind completely. I consider giving up DEFENSIVENESS. The other possibility is RANTING or SARCASM. I have also considered ousting that inner inhabitant of my head that talks me out of exercise or socializing or pursuing my personal interests. I don’t know what to call that “inner voice”….especially since giving it a name makes me sound a bit psycho. I could also just try to “put something on”. Spend the next 40 days practicing joy. Smile everyday and often. Give people compliments. Offer praise. Sing. Look up and breathe deeply. Skip and twirl. And as I sit here, I hear the faint suggestion……give up SADNESS. Sorrow has been an enveloping companion for some time. And considering that today is a day I may receive news that is deeply sorrowful, the suggestion that I should give up grief and sadness is a tremendous sacrifice. What will I do if Doomsday arrives today? If I offer up my sadness in sacrifice, then how am I to genuinely deal with the gut wrenching if it happens?………..

And their is the message. YOU don’t deal with it, Lisa. Let God deal with it. You stay happy. You keep your hope. You trust Him. Let Him carry the sorrow and walk that terrible path for you. Stop crying……cease weeping. Believe and trust and KNOW that He will take care and you need not be sad.

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