Working the Soil – Ash Wednesday 2020

We planted the garden last weekend. All the kids helped to clear out the beds and turn the soil. We were all surprised to discover large roots deep beneath the surface. They stretched and twisted through almost the whole bed! How did this happen?

For starters, our garden has been “on break” for a year. Between being pregnant with Gabe and then learning how to function with 5 kids put the garden far down on our priority list. So, the garden has not received a love it needed and now has all manner of weeds and plant matter which we did not intend.

Now the garden is beautiful, but in a barren way. The soil is dark and rich and inviting, but there is nothing above the surface. All the work that we did, all the planting that was done, it appears there is nothing to show for our efforts. This is how Lent works.

Today is it is Ash Wednesday. Today is the first day that we dig our shovel into the soil of our soul. We have not done this for a whole year, and we may be surprised to discover what is lurking beneath the surface.

We may find rocks, weeds, or stubborn roots that we have to follow the trail of to find their source. If we don’t remove these obstacles, our new seedlings won’t have the room or nutrients they need to survive. We may also be pleased to discover bulbs of plants we had forgotten, waiting to be watered and brought back to life. Perhaps we already have plants growing in this garden of our souls, but these also need some TLC. This is the time of year that we prune and cut back to shape our trees and bushes so that they can grow to their fullest potential.

God is waiting to plant seeds of peace, faith, joy, hope, and many more good things within us. However, God is a good gardener and He knows when the soil is ready and when the soil needs to be worked. We would be deceiving ourselves if we think we are walking into Lent ready for God to do the planting. There is always more work that can be done in a garden.

As we commence with Lent, and I’m talking to myself here as much as anyone else, I pray that we are all open to the work that God wishes to do in our souls. It is hard to overturn what is deeply rooted, but when the root is impeding the growth of new plants it has to go. There’s something extremely satisfying about extracting a tough weed all the way to its roots. To be able to say, “You’re not coming back,” and mean it with all confidence. Let’s work together with God rather than pulling against Him. Let’s allow Him to prepare our souls for the incredible gifts he wishes to give us.

Don’t forget to go download your FREE Lenten journal! Digging into God’s Word is a great way to discover what needs to stay and what needs to go in the garden of your soul.

Waiting in Line: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places

Waiting in Line: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places. Daily Graces

It’s everyone’s favorite thing to do right? Wait in line? Eh, probably not so much. Most lines in life aren’t terribly exciting. You wait in line at the grocery store. Sure you might be excited about what you’re purchasing, but you still have to “swipe your card and follow the instructions on the pinpad” as John kept reminding me at Target this morning. You have to wait in line at the doctor’s office. Even if you aren’t physically standing in a line, you’re there because you or someone close to you is sick. We wait in lines for trains, at the post office, and for our turn at the copy machine.. There are some fun lines in life. For instance, the line for a roller coaster or other amusement park ride. Of course, often those lines are so long that by the time you get to the ride in question you are wondering whether the past 45 minutes is worth your next 2 minutes of thrill.

Some lines are easy to wait in because we wait in them all the time. Waiting at a checkout counter usually doesn’t make or break our day, and if we have to there is usually another line we can switch to that is moving faster. Waiting in line at a left turn can be annoying, but you know that you will get a turn eventually.

There is one kind of line in particular I’d like to focus on. It’s one that many of us do not frequent, perhaps only once a year. Personally, sometimes the line itself is more intimidating that the event I’m waiting for.

The line for the confessional.

We have a great program on base that provides free childcare one Saturday a month for families whose sponsor (aka the military member) is deployed. This past Saturday I took advantage of this service for the first time. After getting my hair cut and doing some Easter shopping I looked at my watch and realized I couldn’t put it off any longer. If I was going to get to confession this Lent, by myself, I had to go now.

I have to admit, I’m not great about getting to confession. Which means I should be going more, a lot more. I once heard a priest say that someone who believes they don’t need to go to confession is the person who needs to go the most because they aren’t being honest with themselves or God about their life, their sins and their relationship with God. I’ll just quietly raise my hand now and own up to the fact that I’m one of these. After this Saturday experience though I hope to become a “regular” confessor.

There I was, waiting in line for confession. It was a Saturday, the typical Catholic time for confessions. And since it is presently Lent, there is a greater emphasis on this sacrament in particular so the lines are usually longer. When I got to the church there were at least 7 people in front of me and very soon at least another 7 behind me. I had some time on my hands.

What does one think about in the confession line? I don’t know about you, but I found myself rehearsing what I was going to say to the priest. Rehearsing! As if somehow if I could more eloquently tell him my sins, maybe……? What? God would forgive me more, better, more completely? Absurd. God does not forgive us because we are well spoken or use carefully crafted logic for why we committed our sins. He forgives us when we have a contrite heart, when we humble ourselves to seek His mercy and His love.

Let’s think for a moment about the parable Jesus told about the pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). A pharisee and a tax collector went to the temple to pray. The pharisee prayed loudly and pompously, exalting in his status as a religious leader and looking down upon common “sinners” so unlike himself. In contrast, the tax collector lowers his head and simply says “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Though I was being honest with myself and God about my sins, I was still wrapped up in my pride. Rather than approaching my confession focusing on my sorrow for my sins, I was thinking about how to best present myself to the priest. Again, it’s not like there are bonus points awarded for using a four syllable word or complex sentence structure. There are no grades, no rankings. The priest is not comparing my confession to the person who came before me or who would come after me and neither is God.

And I think this gets at the heart of why people avoid confession. It’s not about not wanting to tell God our sins. One of the most common reasons why people don’t go is because “it’s between God and me right? I just tell God I’m sorry and I’m good.” It’s about what we think the priest will think about us. And that’s totally missing the point. Not only that, now we are adding sins to our already existing list. We are guilty of pride, vanity, and concern for our public image. Yikes!

I knew while I waited in line that when I received the sacrament I would be fully forgiven by God and it feels so wonderful! I also knew I would receive grace to help me stand up to any temptations to commit those sins again. What I didn’t know was how insightful and grace-filled waiting in that line would be.

What lines are you waiting in? What graces might be waiting for you while you wait?

Daily Graces: Finding God in cooking, cleaning and the everyday ordinary