Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping and with mourning;
Rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Today is Ash Wednesday. That one verse above struck me as worthy of consideration today: "rend your hearts and not your clothing." It reminds me of something my Dad once told me: "I wish you'd say 'I'm sorry' a whole lot less and mean it a whole lot more."
I once thought of "I'm sorry" as my personal get-out-of-jail-free card. Overslept and missed my punch-in time at work? "I'm sorry." Got lazy and neglected to feed the pigs for a couple of days? "I'm sorry." Started up the tractor and drove right into a telephone pole, breaking the oil line and making a huge mess? "I'm sorry." (All three of those events happened, but the last one only once.)
Today, after many years, I've finally learned what my Dad was trying to teach me. I don't say "I'm sorry" as much these days; and, as a result, it does mean a lot more when I do say it. I don't waste a lot of time telling people what a lousy excuse for a human being I am. I spend a lot more time trying to tend to the things I can control and doing my best to be good to the people around me. And, most importantly, I'm learning to live more truthfully. I'm learning to be honest about myself, about my family, about my work, about what it means to be human and to know that if I'm going to have a God, why not go for the real deal instead of some lousy man-made substitute?
Penitence has its value, but like everything else, it can become an idol that draws us away from the living God. This Ash Wednesday, I will again confess that I have sinned against God, but God already knows that. I will take the sign of ashes for myself, as a reminder that I will die, but also as a sign that I'm not dead yet; there is life to be lived, and any discipline I take up should serve to make that life more truthful and more faithful.
Repent me, merciful Father. Turn me toward You; draw me to You, until even penitence is left behind and my rent heart finds its life in You. Amen.
If anyone knows the sculptor of the beautiful statue above, please let me know - the website where I found it did not attribute the sculptor.