By Kelly Wright
Many years ago, I resolved to have my last Diet Coke on December 31. I wanted to rid my life of caffeine, artificial sweeteners and my daily stops through the McDonald’s drive-thru. I kept that boundary for quite a while, that was until the night my family ordered pizza and a Diet Coke sounded so good. My daily relationship with Diet Coke began again and McDonald’s was happy for my return.
Are you a resolution setter? Does the start of the New Year create a pause for you to consider needed changes? I find that days like New Year’s or Ash Wednesday help to create a pause or a space to consider places where I need renewal.
Ash Wednesday, which is February 14 this year, is the start of Lent, which is forty days before Easter. During the forty days of Lent, we are invited to live out that pause or space, making room for God by setting boundaries or abstaining from areas in our lives that are life-taking or barriers.
Up until a few years ago, Lent was a mystery to me and even a bit uninviting. My faith tradition celebrated sacred days like Easter and Christmas, but not sacred seasons, like Lent and Advent.
But what I’ve discovered over the years as I have learned more about and practiced Lent, is that intentionally making space for and practicing the sacred season of Lent adds such meaning and beauty to the Easter season. By creating a space for the invitations of fasting, reflection, and repentance, the Easter season can be one of renewal and recalibration.
Fasting, reflection, and repentance may seem like odd invitations to consider. These probably aren’t subjects we think about or create space for, but they are invitations that our hearts truly long for. When we make space to consider these invitations, we often find that there is a spiritual pull towards reflection and renewal in one or more areas of our lives.
As we consider Ash Wednesday and Lent, I invite you to reflect on your relationship with God. Ash Wednesday is a day to reflect and be honest with God and yourself about your relationship with Him. Where are their barriers or hindrances in your life with God? They are most often evident in rhythms that aren’t life-giving. The life-taking rhythm for me was going to McDonald’s every morning for a Diet Coke. May sound benign, but I was making more space in my morning for a Diet Coke than I was making for God.
King David serves as a guide for us as we consider our personal invitations to fast, reflect, and repent this Lenton season. David’s writing in Psalm 51 is a foundational Scripture for Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. He wrote this Psalm after being confronted about a moral failing – an affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, -- that he was attempting to cover up. When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan, David’s heart was filled with sorrow and repentance. David then wrote in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
David gives us three steps to consider as we reflect on our relationship with God through this season of renewal.
The first step David took was to be honest with God about his sin. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what was evil in your sight.” To be brutally honest with God, David first had to be brutally honest with himself.
For you, have there been areas God has been trying to get your attention? Sins or attachments to things that aren’t of God?
The really amazing thing about our relationship with God is that He created us to be attached to Him. He has placed a God shaped void in our lives that only He can fill. But we are human and prone to try to fill our lives with any and everything but God. But the really, really amazing thing about God is that He loves us so much, He keeps pursuing us, even when we’ve gone our own way time and time again. God chases after us out of nothing but pure love for us.
And not only does God pursue us, but His forgiveness is always available for us. David says, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; my sacrifice, O God, is a broken and contrite heart.” God doesn’t want us to clean up our lives and then reconnect with Him. God wants us to bring our broken lives to Him so that He can renew and restore us.
So today, would you consider having a brutally honest look at your spiritual walk and see the ways God is inviting you to recalibrate through repentance? Today could be the start of a very life-giving chapter of your story!
David goes on to write, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
The second step David took was to turn over his heart to God. David asked God to create in him a pure heart and renew his spirit.
Ever feel like you’ve gone too far for God to be able to do anything with you? You are not alone. Left to our own abilities, we come up short every single time. But David shows us that our part of reconnecting with God is to simply show up and let God do His work in us. God longs to renew and redeem us, He’s the God that restores us. We just have to be willing to turn to Him and allow Him to do the work in our lives, to let God be in the driver’s seat of our lives.
With this in mind, would you consider asking God to do for you what He did for David? “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
The third step David took was to live in God’s steadfast love.
As we detach from and recognize the areas we are getting stuck in our spiritual walk, we allow space to attach to God’s love in ever deepening ways. When we try to fill our lives with these things that only leave us wanting more, God invites us to let go and experience His never-ending love. David knew that he was deeply loved by God, and it took that knowledge of love for David to experience true repentance and confession of all the wrongs he had done.
As you consider being honest with yourself and God, asking God to create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you, living in God’s steadfast love, may today be a start to a spiritual recalibration that is life-giving and life-changing. Remember that God does the work as you turn over your life to Him.
May this season of Lent be a new start of a deeper connection with God. I leave you with this prayer:
Holy Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. I confess that I have fallen short of your glory and without your mercy and grace, I would be nothing. I’m turning my heart over to you and asking you to renew in me a clean and pure heart. Give me the joy of your salvation and allow me to see where I am attached to things of this world. During this season of Lent, help me attach to you and you alone. Help me, by your Holy Spirit, to be honest with myself and you. Help me, by your Holy Spirit, to live in your steadfast love. Thank you, Lord, that Easter is coming! Death has no sting, no victory, because of Jesus! From dust, we might have been formed, but our bodies, our spirits, ourselves, await beautiful redemption and the restoration of all things. Help us long and look forward to that day, and let it come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.