Jesus said that all the laws and instructions from the prophets could be reduced to two simple commands: Love God with everything you are and love others the way you love yourself. But what if you don’t love yourself? It goes from a really simple command to an insurmountable hurdle when loving yourself seems impossible. It’s hard to figure out how to love yourself when everything around you tells you that you can’t be content without one more something or other, or that just over that horizon is what you’ve always longed for but it’s out of reach without something more than you have. And life becomes a perpetual system of attempting to be good enough and accomplish the things that will finally make you happy and bring you peace but with every acquisition or accomplishment you’re still you and you don’t feel like you’re enough. No matter the accomplishment you just don’t quite measure up and you feel empty and alone regardless of your success.
As I’ve reflected on Ash Wednesday and the coming Lenten season I’ve been contemplating this feeling. I used to feel this way all the time, literally every second of every day, and I still sometimes do. As I think about the elements of Ash Wednesday though: sin, confession, and forgiveness, I’m coming to realize they have been instrumental in overcoming that feeling and embracing the second half of Jesus’ greatest commandments.
Sin is the great breaker of people, the divider of worlds, the thing that separates us from knowing the peace that we were created to live in. Sure, its bad stuff we do, but more than that it is the drive behind, the dysfunctional feelings that lead to destructive behaviours. Stealing, gambling, even adultery, are things that are seen as “sinful.” They are more than just actions, they are the symptom of a deep, discontentment in our hearts and minds that, until addressed, will continue to haunt us and drive us to do things that end up destructive. It is in those places behind the actions, the deeper places, that we need light and healing. And that is the power of bearing the ashes of our sin and embracing confession.
Through confession, we admit to God, and others around us, that there is something inside that isn’t right. We invite light and healing into the places we’ve walled off that feed our destructive impulses. Even if we have been able to prevent significant “sinful” behaviour in our lives, we still have these battles inside that leave us, if not hating, at least mistrusting ourselves and we stay in bondage to sin. By confessing our sin—covering our heads in ashes—we admit our own inability to see ourselves as anything other than broken and call out to Christ to be our judge. And in that judgment, Christ takes it all upon himself and invites us to take on a new righteousness. One not based on our abilities but a righteousness born of God.
Christ takes the inadequacies, imperfections and vileness and exchanges it for holiness. Rather than punishment, this confession leads to forgiveness where the weight is taken and we can begin to see ourselves through God’s eyes: holy, righteous, made new. Confession isn’t supposed to make us feel bad or make sure we are adequately punished. It isn’t even about making sure we know we aren’t good enough. Confession is inviting peace into our turmoil, hope into our sadness and light into the darkness. It asks God to show us what we look like through Their eyes so we can love ourselves.1 Ash Wednesday is, for me, an invitation to embrace my humanity as a beloved creation of God and the precious, pure and holy bride of Christ. To be free from the stuff that makes me feel inferior and to know love. And I’m finding that as I do that I am also beginning to see the people around me through God’s eyes and loving them in a way I never could have before.
As I’m coming to know the depths of God’s love; of the incredible grace offered in forgiveness, it’s becoming near impossible to hate my neighbour. As I learn how to love myself the joy of it makes me look at the people around me and long for them to know that same joy. There is a beauty to the people around you as you learn to love God and experience Their love of you that is so hard to suppress, and all I want to do is reach out to the hurting, the lost, those that are struggling just like I have struggled, and still sometimes do, and offer them the same gift that was offered me: coming before a loving God and experiencing forgiveness that brings peace to the very core of one’s being.As I learn how to love myself the joy of it makes me look at the people around me and long for them to know that same joy. - Dustin Schellenberg Click To Tweet