I boarded a plane headed south to warmer temperatures, and noticed a stewardess with ashes still on her forehead from an earlier service. As she wore her dark forehead, we displayed the light-hearted smiles of a family taking a trip.
It was an unavoidable collision of dates, really. Ash Wednesday hit right before days off from school for teacher conferences and President’s Day. Like most parents of school-age children, we wanted to travel during a time when minimal classes would be missed.
But the result of this collision was a frustrating contrast for this contemplative faith blogger. While others were thinking about what Christ gave up, and what they would forgo in remembrance, I was pondering what my family would consume and do as we enjoyed our extended time together.
This contrast brought a word to my mind. A word that might not be the first to pop into your head, but that burst forth in mine with a new understanding.
As I have done with other periods of the church calendar, I will do a series on this blog to honor this Lenten season. Once a week, I will post about various teachings of Christ with the series, “Jesus Said… A Series for Lent.”
So, here is something Jesus said about humility:
Anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. – Matthew 18:4
There is one particular way I see my children living out humility: they experience life as it is, in real time. They know they are not in control of all that happens to them. And though this can lead to fist-pounding hair-pulling temper tantrums, it can also lead to a deeper experience of their days. Not their days as they should be, but their days as they are.
Children stop to cry when they skin their knees and they pause to wonder when they see the petals of a flower. They are loud and quiet, somber and joyful as they respond to what is happening around them. They experiment and learn and fail and grow.
Children feel their way through each day. Because that is all they can do. They can neither control their emotions nor determine their calendar. Children are forced into the humility of experiencing life as it comes to them.
As adults, we get so consumed with our expectations of what should be, or goals of what could be, or nostalgia about what was, that we don’t respond to what is. We worry and regret and strive and control and work until we have exhausted ourselves in pursuit of something we do not have.
Jesus wants to release us from all that.
Jesus told his disciples to have the humility of a child when they asked who would be greatest in his kingdom. This response is freedom. In God’s kingdom, you don’t have to struggle to achieve something or strive to control an outcome. You can receive Jesus’ grace, bask in Jesus’ love, and experience life as it comes to you each day. That is a gift that requires humility and trust to open.
And so, as I think about my last week, how I began the season of somber reflection by flying off on holiday, I trust that it is okay. I could not control my circumstances to what they should have been. I could only experience them for what they were. They were wonderful, and I don’t have to apologize for that.
My faith is not about performance, or living up to some external expectation of how I should feel or what I should do. My faith is about my love for and trust in a Savior who gives me grace for each day.
Perhaps vacation was an appropriate beginning to the Lenten season after all.