Ash Wednesday

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I don’t know what you all have been up to the last 12 months. I can venture a guess. But only because I can look at what I’ve been doing the last 12 months, which isn’t terribly much compared to previous years, a lot of the same things I’ve been doing the last 15 years really with slight adjustments for the continuing ever-unpredictable pandemic nightmare and its disastrous repercussions on other people’s lives. And we also completed the construction of this church, moved in, sold the old property, and continue to adjust to life in this new space. And by “we” I mean some very talented people who have been highly instrumental in getting a lot of important work done while I did my best to put on a brave face and assure the skeptics and the critics that everything was completely under control. Maybe I faked it well, but I truly didn’t have too many sleepless nights the last 12 months. The things that have caused me to fret and panic have been minor compared to those a few people I know have had to face. And walking the dog has been a godsend. But I can always use a break. We all can. It seems word has gotten out there’s always room every day for a new crisis. And the crises that aren’t new tend to escalate and worsen from a soft drizzle that quickly turns into a downpour, then a deluge, then a hurricane. I’m not even personally involved in most of what’s going on and I’m exhausted. We can all agree, a fresh start would be nice.

But what would a fresh start look like? Do we really need to throw everything out? It would seem like the best way, the only way to achieve the kind of success we’re looking for. But much of life will probably look the same unless it also includes moving a hundred miles from where you now live, cutting out all toxic relationships, working a job you enjoy, getting enough sleep and exercise, getting a whole new wardrobe, losing a few pounds, getting a complete make-over, a little cosmetic surgery, then entering the witness protection program. But even if everything changes while we stay essentially the same, nothing really changes. The common denominator is us. And unless we make a significant transformative change, unless our mentality, our attitude, our perspective undergoes a significant transformative change, we’ll just be digging the same hole in the exact same spot using a different shovel hoping we finally find buried treasure.

Whenever Lent comes around we return to the same things we’ve always done because it’s what we’ve learned to do. But unless we make a significant transformative change, nothing really changes. And nothing really changes because come Easter we just go back to everything that was before Lent, exactly as it all was before Lent. No matter our Lenten practices, personal or with the church community, we run the danger of expecting the words we say or the things we do will draw us closer to God and our neighbor simply because we go through the motions. But it might be more productive to actually work on our specific faults, those things we dislike about ourselves that are incompatible with our sincere desire to please God and help others. Giving up the things we give up for Lent or taking on some new religious practice shouldn’t be about enduring pain or inconvenience. Rather, it should be about embracing a new beginning.

Take for instance that one fault you dislike about yourself. If you have difficulty focusing on one, sit a friend down who loves you deeply and truly desires for you the holiness to which God calls you. Ask them what one thing you could improve on or change to become a better human being, a better person, a better Christian. Then figure out three things to measure your progress by, things you can challenge yourself to work on honestly. Resolve to review your day each day and plan the next day’s strategy so you don’t slide back or stand still. Push yourself to inch forward a little each day with the ultimate goal of drawing closer to God and serving your neighbor better. And if you succeed at that one thing for Lent this year, don’t let up come Easter. Keep going. Maybe pick a second fault to work on for the next few months, then a third before Lent starts next year. And probably do some of the things you’ve always done for Lent but with the same objective in mind, transformative self-improvement and change to become a better human being, a better person, a better Christian.

And maybe while you’re at it, make a conscious effort to radiate genuine joy like you actually want to be a better human being, a better person, a better Christian. No one else might notice, but it shouldn’t matter because your Father in heaven will. And perhaps the next 40 days won’t be a total waste of your time. A fresh start is desirable and indeed beneficial. But you will need to want it badly enough or nothing changes.

Rolo B Castillo © 2022