An older man walked into a local candy store last month and said he wanted a box of chocolates for his wife. He told the store owner which ones she favors – the dark chocolates — and the box was soon filled and wrapped with a red ribbon.
What was the occasion?
The man noticed that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday coincide this year. He knows how much his wife loves chocolate. He also knows that she gives them up for Lent every year.
He didn’t want her to miss one of her joys. By getting her chocolates early, she could enjoy her treat and give it up for Lent, too.
The man found a creative way to honor the spirit of a day that points us in two directions that aren’t as opposite as we might think.
No better pairing
On the surface, this year’s confluence of chocolates and ashes seems to produce an odd couple. But it’s fitting to have one day of celebrating love in all its forms while also recognizing our mortality.
Love and dust? There’s no better pairing.
The ashes remind us that this phase of life is limited. We all lose sight of how much each day is a precious gift. We fail to see the many possibilities for gratitude, celebration and love that are present each day.
The hearts remind us that love creates us, animates us and sustains us through every one of our limited days. Love gives us this day and all its glorious possibilities. Love is for everyone whose lives we can touch in some way, even strangers a half a world away.
Together, they remind us that we’ve got to decide how we’ll use today. Will we bring more division, pain and indifference into our world? Or will we choose to do all that we can to make the world more as God would have it?
Lent sharpens our focus on what matters. It challenges us to get re-grounded and find creative ways to bring healing and love to others, especially the marginalized and the needy and the victims of abuse.
Lent prompts us to examine what’s getting in the way of giving and receiving love in our lives. It calls out the insecurities and fears that form walls. It challenges our prejudices.
Daily chances to make a difference
Above all, it forces us to see injustice and do something about it; to recognize those who are hurting and find a way to help them heal; to reach out to the outcast and the refugee and invite them to be with us.
We mustn’t waste the daily chances that God provides to make a difference.
Ultimately, Lent encourages us to forge a trail of love through our daily dustiness and to transform our ashy selves with creative acts of compassion. It reminds us that we are physical beings for now — formed in the elements of stardust — but we’ll always be animated by a breath of life and love that wants to guide us.
So, let’s heed the Valentine/Ash reminder. And let’s pray for the faith and the courage to live each day boldly, kindly, and joyfully right up to the day when we exchange our heartbeat for a deeper place in God’s heart, which is love.