When we say someone is “put together,” we mean he or she “has their act together” — is organized, or presents himself or herself well, or something like that.
Well, I like to consider myself a “put together” person. I may not strike you as the most organized person, but I consider myself emotionally put together. Since I was very little, I’ve always hated being emotional in front of others.
Part of my dislike of being publicly emotional is from a practical point of view. As a pastor, I am often witness to the full range of human emotions and experiences. I am often trying to be present for someone who can’t possibly be expected to be “put together,” and so if I can be on their behalf, it is a way I can help.
But the core of my dislike is being vulnerable in front of people. It’s risky; you are putting yourself and your emotions out there for another person to respond to, and the responses aren’t always what we’ve hoped for.
What surprises me is how often we try to be “put together” for God. We’re just as concerned about looking good in front of God as we are with looking good in front of one another.
We’re often engaged in an elaborate production, a play of sorts that we put on for God, that tries to communicate, “Look how good we’re doing!” We want God to see only the best we have to offer. We want to put our best foot forward for God and know that God is happy with us.
If we can’t admit our sin and brokenness to God, then truly, who can we really be ourselves in front of? Who can know us fully? Maybe we’re afraid of what God will think of us, and what God will do to us if we don’t measure up. At our core, perhaps we really don’t believe, still, that God loves us unconditionally, that God gives us a free gift of grace, and that there is nothing we can do to earn or un-earn God’s love for us.
But we’re missing the point, trying to pay for the gift. We act just like the hypocrites Jesus talks about; we want very much to look like we’re doing all the right things.
But on Feb. 14, thank God, we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a season for penitence, repentance, admitting what we’ll barely even confess to ourselves — we are sinful. We stand in need of God’s grace.
Lent is not about being put together. Lent is offering our brokenness to God.
Ash Wednesday is a day to bring your brokenness to God, to offer the broken pieces to God with an open and honest heart. We receive ashes as a sign of our mortality, a reminder that we are human and finite. We receive ashes as symbols of repentance; we receive them to say we are sorry for sin. They’re a symbol that sometimes we are burnt out and burnt up.
But ashes are a symbol of life, too. The book of Isaiah says God takes our ashes of mourning and turns them into garlands of praise. That’s what God’s love can do in our lives.
There is nothing you can show God that will keep God from loving you completely. Give God your broken spirit. Give God your weeping and mourning. God will give you a clean heart and love without condition or price.
The Rev. Dave Wise is pastor of Otterbein United Methodist Church in Greenfield. He can be reached at email@example.com. This column is written by local clergy members.