How do I explain ashes to a very confused four year old? How do I tell her of frailty and mortality?
“Honey,” I say, “this is a reminder.”
Ellie says, “A reminder?” She’s obviously still confused, although very aware of her mother’s forgetfulness (keys, phone, wallet, school papers, etc.).
I reply, “Yes, a reminder that mommy needs Jesus.”
She says, “But MOMMY, you already have Him.” (Score! At least she recognizes that I “have Jesus,” because I’m sure that some days she has to wonder).
Then I say, “Yes, I have Jesus, but sometimes mommy forgets that I need Him every day – even this very moment. These ashes on my head remind mommy that I am not a superhero, and I am in need of rescuing. Jesus rescues me!”
Living in the land of entitlement where we feel as though we deserve the car we are driving, the house we are living in, the food we are enjoying, and the entertainment we are consuming, we need to be somberly reminded that the only thing we actually deserve is hell. We are entitled to God’s wrath and judgment; after all, Romans 6:23a teaches us, “the wages (or payment) of sin is death.”
I will confess that so many times, I think God owes me comfort. I deserve to sit here, watch Parenthood, and eat my popcorn because I worked hard today. “God, I did laundry all day; I deserve to sleep well tonight.”
In a dark sanctuary lit only in candles – singing songs of brokenness and repentance – I would join a line of other sinners, who like me, were in need of a reminder. It was our sin; it was my sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.
Looking into a mirror, I take the ashes and paint my forehead with a cross. From dust I came and to dust I will return. No, I am not immortal. I will die. Someday soon I will find myself lying in a casket. Looking in the mirror, I pray that I would see myself for who I truly am – a sinner in need of grace. But there is more to it than that. I was not left to merely be consumed as ashes, but Christ covered me with beauty through pouring out His blood on the cross.
There is something bittersweet about mourning. My husband tells me I am really good at mourning. Lament could possibly be my spiritual gift. I find myself thinking and turning my thoughts towards why I sin. Oh how often I feel the heaviness of sin, and I cannot wait to see heaven’s gates open up. Then, and only then will I no longer have the desire to bow down to other loves. God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus for my sin, and He has not wrath remaining for me. Therefore, I can run freely to His throne. I don’t have to hide my sin; He knows it all, and yet He still loves me – and it’s all because of Jesus.
Mourning may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
And so we turn off our television set, not to show how much self-control we have, or even that we are keeping ourselves from something the Lord has given us to enjoy. No, we turn of the tube to ask the Lord to remind us that all we really need is Him, and that all things are a gift, even watching the Bravermans.