Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Getting Your Face Washed

Today is Ash Wednesday.  When my kids attended the Catholic school they were required to attend mass on this day.  The priest would mark the sign of the cross on their foreheads with a mixture of ashes and holy water to remind them of repentance.  They were to leave this black smudge for the rest of the day as a sign of humility.

They hated it.  It was itchy.  It felt shameful to them.  They couldn't wait to wash it off as soon as they came home.  I have to say that I was happy to remove that stain from the faces of the little ones I love.  Turns out it's a pretty effective object lesson in so many ways...

Sin can be so much fun at the time--afterward it's so uncomfortable.  It itches and rankles and tears at our spirits.  Regret blocks out the sunlight.  Shame saps energy.  We just wish it could be wiped away...and it can!  What joy it is to be cleansed!  How much joy it must give our Father when we let Him remove the stain!  How awful would it be to keep that stain when He's longing to remove it?

I remember a day when the kids were all preschoolers and I was trying to get everyone out the door, but no one else felt any sense of urgency.  In fact, they were squabbling in the doorway.  I totally lost my temper and I YELLED at them.  It worked.  They paid attention and in that moment it was such a relief to let loose with my emotions.  But it wasn't long until I began to feel ashamed.  They were being kids, very little kids, kids in training.  Yes, there were plenty of reasons why I felt pushed right over the edge.  I'm human and I'd reached my limit.  I felt awful.  I'd dishonoured little people that I loved very much.  I told them I was sorry, but I still felt gross.

When I arrived at my destination I burst into tears, telling my friend all about what a horrible mother I was.  My little one came up to me and--with very big, earnest, blue eyes--asked why I was crying.  I told her I felt so awful for losing my temper.  She reminded me that I'd said sorry to them and then asked, "Did you tell Jesus you're sorry?"  I responded that, yes, I had.

"Well, then you're just being silly!"  And she ran off to play.

I laughed.  A wobbly, watery, semi-hysterical laugh.  She'd nailed it.  Taken away all my right to wallow in shame.  Gone.  Washed.  Free.

We have no business punishing ourselves.  Whether we've lost our tempers or committed a "biggie," the price for our freedom has been paid.  To say we cannot forgive ourselves is the worst kind of pride, it is to say that His gift is not enough.

If we've harmed others through our sin, we need to make it right with them and then go get our face washed.

Today is a good day to have the stain washed away.  Smudges of dirt and shame don't belong on the faces of the King's children.  You were created to shine with His's not a glory earned, but bestowed.  Let Him wash you.  He's longing to.

I've tried everything and nothing helps.  
I'm at the end of my rope.
Is there no one who can do anything for me?
Isn't that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.
He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions 
where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind,
but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved.
Those who enter in Christ's being-here-for-us 
no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud.

A new power is in operation.
The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind,
has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you
from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

Romans 7:24-25;8:1-2 MSG


  1. "To say we cannot forgive ourselves is the worst kind of pride, it is to say that His gift is not enough."


    One part of the symbolism I find meaningful in the Ash Wednesday services is that the ashes are formed from the palm leaves used in the Palm Sunday services. For that glory to turn to an ashy cross reminds me of "He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us..." And in that transformation we've been marked as members of the covenant under which the ancient law was fulfilled.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for adding that, Leslie. It's beautiful!