Ash Wednesday 2018

Yesterday I re-shared this piece I wrote for Seedbed a couple of years ago. I haven’t written like I want to in some time, and there is a danger in writing something that pleases you too easily, but this was one darling I didn’t want to kill1. I didn’t and I’m glad.

Re-reading the piece made me consider how much more I think about death than I used to. I know this may sound silly to some, but I was 39 when I wrote that. I’m 41 now and I have to admit that the mythical tipping point which shoved me over-the-hill, my 40th birthday last year, has led me to consider my mortality a lot more than I used to. Last November, when my family was in Dallas for a couple of days, I fell asleep to the reassuring thought that it might be a day or two before anyone came upon my carcass if I died in my sleep that night. The thing is, I’m not in great shape and I’m not a healthy eater. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I could die of a heart attack in the middle of the night and no one would know until I didn’t show up for church. Every slight internal discomfort makes me weigh whether or not I’m going to live to see 42. It’s terrifying. I’m not afraid of death, but the imagined pain my family would suffer, especially my daughter, is almost unbearable.

Secretly, though, I’m really more sad about what I would miss. I know that sounds selfish, but I want to see her graduate as many times as she wants to. I want to see her get married if that’s in the cards for her. I want to cheerlead and dance and yell for joy when things go well for her. I want to be there when life sucks and know she’ll talk to me about it because she trusts me and because she has it drilled into her brain, “There’s nothing you could ever do that would ever make me love you any less.”2 Yes, I feel good when life goes well for her. It’s not that feeling I would miss, though. It’s her. I love her more than I love even myself.

That’s my prayer for Lent. I don’t know if I’ll give up anything or take up anything, but what I really want is to love Jesus more than I love myself. I want his love for me to purify my heart and my affections so that I love God and other people more than I love myself. That’s all. Funny enough, that’s what my theological tradition3 calls it’s most important focus. All I want is to get as close to our Triune Creator as possible. Can I do it through fasting? Probably. What about a dozen other things? Yes.4 Which brings me back to earlier - there’s only one thing standing between me and intimacy with God. Me. Living, breathing, kicking, and screaming me. That guy has to die. Hopefully not in bed when the family is gone, but before our crucified Lord on a tear-stained rug. Here’s to Lent 2018.

  1. A quote attributed to William Faulkner goes, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ↩︎
  2. I don’t know where I read this. It’s been a few years. But my kid knows that my love for her doesn’t depend on anything except the fact that she’s mine. One of the few bright choices I’ve made. ↩︎
  3. And the Bible, pal. And before I get comments, just remember that Wesley said he was only interested in “plain Scriptural Christianity.” He called it Methodism. ↩︎
  4. Go read this book and practice reminding yourself that the means of grace aren’t about earning grace, they are means to experiencing grace. Hence the name… ↩︎