It is Ash Wednesday: the day we are called to be reminded of our mortality by receiving ashes – the symbol of mourning and repentance – in the sign of the cross on our foreheads…

From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

It is on this day that we hear the prophet Joel’s commission: 

Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

And it is on this day that we begin our Lenten path: our journey through the wilderness and toward the cross… Our time to retreat from the busyness of life, to reflect on what it means to be human and children of God, and to open our ears to hear and our eyes to see the ways in which God is present in our lives and around us.

It is our time to recognize that life is short, and therefore to reevaluate how our own lives have and can have meaning in this world.  

And as Jesus wandered in the wilderness 2000 years ago between his baptism and the beginning of his ministry to prepare for what was to come, Lent is also our time to wander in the wilderness in preparation for our journey toward the cross and onto the Resurrection.

During Lent, some of us take on the ancient practice of “giving up” something… However, whether we give up chocolate or coffee, Facebook or tv, this practice does not serve as a means to prove our willpower or to cut a few calories in our diets.  Rather, it serves as a means to cut out something in our lives that we seem dependent upon or that consumes us and holds us back from seeing and experiencing the grace of God in our spiritual lives, in others, and in ourselves.  

At the same time, some of us also choose to do the ancient practice of “taking something on” in our lives (in that newly created space) to help us return to God and to focus on the important things in life that we too often miss in our busy schedules: whether it is a new prayer or other spiritual practice, a new family activity, a form of community outreach or service, or a physical activity that will improve one’s physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.

Whatever we do, let us be intentional this Lent.  Let us return again and again and again to our God with all our hearts.  And as we do so, let us equip our youth to do the same and walk alongside them in this journey.   

  • How do you feel called to return to God with all your heart during this season of Lent?
  • What are some of the things you are giving up and/or taking on this Lent?  
  • How are you equipping your youth to make extra space during this season of Lent to return to God and walking alongside them in this journey?  

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.