What’s that dirt on your head?

Though Lent is a somber forty-day period of the Christian year given to fasting, reflection and acts of charity, here’s a story that will probably give you a smile – and serve as a reminder that those observing Lent need to interpret the practice to a watching, wondering world:

I was immersed into Gentile culture for the first time in eighth grade after growing up prior to that in a predominately Jewish neighborhood. In the hallway at school on Ash Wednesday, I noticed that a friend had “dirt” smudged on her forehead, and reached over to wipe it off. She jumped away from my spit bath ministration, and shrieked, “That’s not dirt! It’s ashes I got at church this morning!” She walked away from me laughing.

I’d never heard of Ash Wednesday or Lent, and her laughter made me feel ashamed that I didn’t know about the smudge. Throughout the rest of the day, I noticed that lots of kids walking through the hallways that day had the mysterious smudge on their heads. I had no idea what kind of religion would insist that people get dirt on their heads. Several years passed (including some where I was a follower of Jesus) before I learned what Ash Wednesday and Lent were all about.

Most kids in middle school may not be emotionally and spiritually ready to do much more than respond like my horrified friend did, but the rest of us window of time to be able to serve as interpreters – not of any practices we may engage in or abstain from in order to cultivate repentance in our lives and ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ – but, as quickly and winsomely as possible, to point those around us toward the life of Jesus. In popular culture, the season is marked by the annual return of McDonald’s commercials featuring the Filet O’ Fish sandwich, but we can do much better than greasy deep-fried fish fast food – or mocking laughter.

For those who are observing Lent beginning today, may this period draw you and those you know nearer to the One who gave all to bring you into unbroken relationship with himself.
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