An Ash Wednesday Confession of Joy

The season of Lent has had a bad rap for a long time. Because Jesus’ first directive word in the first (or at least oldest canonical) gospel of Mark is “Repent” it makes sense that we should maybe dedicate 6 weeks every year to doing that. But what does that mean?

It’s likely you’ve heard the Greek translation of the word “repent”: to change one’s mind. Not “to beat oneself up” nor “to wish you could be something you’re not” nor “to give up things you love.” Instead, it’s about taking a step toward Joy.

It’s nothing new that our thinking, our self-talk, our cognitive distortions are the cause of much of our pain and suffering. Ask any person in recovery about “stinkin thinkin.” Ask any counselor or therapist about cognitive behavior therapy. It’s not what happens to us that shatters people so often, it’s how we are unconsciously or consciously tell ourselves messages about what it means or will do to us or those we love.

I’ll admit that I am a Growth junkie, but with that addiction comes an understanding about the twins in my life of Joy and Suffering. It’s this understanding that helps me with confusing texts like this from Romans 8:17 that suggests that as children (heirs) of God, that we must “share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

It doesn’t have anything to do with condoning abuse or neglect or pretending it’s okay when people treat you like dirt. No.

Not at all.


Jesus wasn’t pinned to a cross as a victim in an act of defeat or shame. He experienced the container of God’s Love firmly enough to be able to lean into serious suffering rather than deny the truth of God’s Presence and Power to create a way out of no way: in order to change the way we see and think about ourselves and each other and the world. He knew that God is actually the force within each of us that gets activated in surprising ways, allowing repentance to happen all on its own. And it happens most easily when we’re actively on the lookout for it—waiting for it to happen. Which is what the black forehead ashes on Wednesday are meant to do: open that inner eye of awareness and expectation. Suffering and Joy are forever and always two sides of one coin.

As Rumi writes: “God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites so that you will have two wings to fly, not one.” It’s not surprising that most of us would prefer a cross-less Christianity. But it’s never gonna get us where we want to go: finding balance. finding wholeness. finding peace.

We instinctively run from discomfort. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s a survival mechanism of sorts. However, as Mike Mason says in his book, Practicing the Presence of People: How We Learn to Love, “When I resist suffering, all of my relationships—with God and myself and others—become shallow and unfulfilled.” He’s pointing to the wisdom of knowing when we need to sit in the discomfort of uncertainty and not knowing. We train for this sitting every year during Lent so that when life brings those times to us we’ll be prepared to do more than just fight, freeze, or flee. Life becomes really miserable until we somehow learn to look it calmly in the face at its most fearsome moments.

Lent is a time of intentional practice of awareness, paying attention to the firm ways we are held in the divine container of Love and Connection each day and every night, no matter what else is happening. Folks have found that prayer and fasting and giving up things or giving away things helps them do that sometimes. But if those things don’t work for you, that’s okay. Cause here’s something I’ve learned from my twin friends, Joy and Suffering: The suffering found in actively holding an unanswered question or longing each day in the palm of Love has its own way of bringing us closer to Joy.

When judgment or hate rises within yourself, just become aware of it enough to let it go whenever it’s finally able to be released, for you don’t want the additional suffering that judgment brings: a sense of separation and alienation from all the good in the world. Just love the questions and the longings of your heart with tenderness. Mark them with the ashes of sorrow you may be feeling as you lean into them as your crosses to bear in this season.

This is the ground of Suffering from which the Joy of new life will spring in due time.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” Matthew 16: 24-26

With Love for you and your painful questions this Lenten training season for Joy,


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