|Keeping bonds strong in the Word and in prayer.|
Teaching our children to say “I’m sorry” is something my husband and I have striven to do from their youngest days. Repentance from sin and free forgiveness are pretty central to our family life. Goodness knows we sin enough to need it! And sin sitting darkly and angrily between two people has terrible effects on that relationship. Loss of trust, bad feelings, poisoned interactions…these are things we do not want in our house. They hurt.
And teaching them to say “I’m sorry” isn’t a matter of forcing it from them even as they glare at the other person. It’s a matter of helping them to calm down enough to look at the situation from a different perspective. Are his tears really worth the fun of knocking down his block tower? If she’s being bossy, is there anything you can say to her, instead of yelling her? If he won’t stop saying the same word over and over, isn’t there a better way to handle it than pinching him?
From a heavenly perspective: Will you let this stand between you and your brother, who is also your brother in Christ?
Ash Wednesday points us to another relationship that was broken. It wasn’t repaired with a simple “I’m sorry” but with the sacrifice of Christ. It wasn’t fixed with a quick “Please forgive me?” and a “Sure” or even an “Of course I forgive you!” It wasn’t fixed with tears, but with blood. It wasn’t fixed with the death of selfish pride, but with the death of God’s Son.
Isaiah 58 is a passage dealing with true and good fasting, as well as the connection between a contrite heart and our relationship with our neighbors. Namely, those in need. When we are querulous and unforgiving, we cannot draw near to God – in fasting or in devotion or in anything. When we are looking only to make ourselves happy, we cannot draw near to God.
“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgements of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements;
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?
Fasting isn’t a practice done much anymore in the modern western world. We could dissect the implications and the benefits and the fact that our sin has already been atoned for and we don’t have to fast to show repentance. But just as I tell my children: will you let a pet sin, a sin that in your innermost heart, you really don’t want to give up, stand between you and your God?
I like to eat desserts. I don’t even think at this point that it’s an appreciation of good chocolate or a perfectly-timed baking cycle. I just like to eat them. If I have a headache, it goes away while I’m eating; if I’m sad, it gives me something else to think of for a short time; if I’m hungry, it’s something that’s immediately ready to eat. This costs me no small amount of pride and shame to admit. It’s something that I’ve tried halfheartedly to combat for a while. But a half-hearted fight will always lose. And the thing I realized recently is this: Do I want this sin of relying on a temporary fix like eating a dessert to stand between me and my God?
Not that desserts are evil. Or that enjoying them is sinful. Or even being overweight.
But not turning in prayer to God when I’m disheartened is. Treating a problem (sinus headache) with something which its use over time contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle is. Not taking a few extra minutes to find a healthy meal rather than eat something quick but unnecessary (and may I add void of nutritional value) is. Not setting a good example for my children is.
Allowing something to be between me and my God is.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
It isn’t easy to admit when there’s something wrong in our lives that we have been ignoring or encouraging or perhaps pretending isn’t wrong. But getting at the heart of it, at the root, will show its nature: either something that isn’t a problem, or (like in my case) something that needs to be addressed. God can heal those breaches in our lives.
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Not that this is the only area of my life that needs work. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray; all of us have sins that we battle.
This Ash Wednesday, though, I am prayerfully planning to begin a battle of leaning more heavily on my God than on a temporary, false help. To lean more heavily on the God who did not spare His own Son, but sent him for all of humanity, for you, and for me.
What might you, with the help of God, seek to remove from between you and Him?
My anthem for Lent:
Closer to Myself, by Kendall Payne