Ash Wednesday: Because we Need the Smudgy Grace of a Do-Over

by | Feb 26, 2020 | Lent, Sabbath, Uncategorized

Welcome to the beginning of A Sabbath Journey for Lent! Over the next forty days, I pray that these weekly reflections will make the Lenten season rich and meaningful for you.

Once a week, we are giving up one day of keeping busy for abiding with Jesus through rest. Forget being consumed with matters of the body to focus on matters of the spirit. By resting a specific part of your body each week, allow God to bring fresh revelation, meaning, and purpose.

To follow along, subscribe to weekly posts here. This will grant access to the FREE download of my eBook, A Sabbath Journey for Lent, written as a companion for our Lenten journey to Easter.

What You Can Expect Each Week

Read Scripture and meditations.
Reflect on Scripture verses and soul-stirring questions.
Repent for choosing self-reliance over a reliance on God.
Restore your mind, body, and soul through prayer.
Remember to mark time as holy and set apart through a day of Sabbath.

What is Lent?

This same time last year, I left my terrace house in London at 9am GMT and walked to the train station, the wheels on my suitcase thumping over pavement. At 9pm MST, I pulled that same suitcase through the door of my family home in Phoenix. By the time my head lay on the pillow, I’d been awake 24 hours.

It seemed as if I’d been transported through a porthole to another world, in the same way we enter the other-worldliness of time set apart for special days on the calendar. In this case, I was travelling to celebrate my daughter’s twenty-third birthday, leaving the verdant, dark and dreary landscape of winter in England to arrive in the sunny, arid desert. Travelling through time zones and cultures was an apt metaphor for making time different for the holy season of Lent.

Originating from the Anglo-Saxon word lengthen, Lent falls during the season of the year when the hours of daylight gradually lengthen from the winter’s darkness.

On Ash Wednesday in Phoenix, the sun descends behind bald mountains dotted with saguaro and I insert myself into an unfamiliar crowd of people in an Anglican church, alongside my mother-in-law, Geri. Slowly sliding onto a wooden pew in the back of the worship space, a couple sitting in front of us turn around and behold, our eyes widen and mouths drop open. God has divinely placed us among familiar friends in an unfamiliar space to receive ashes smudged on our foreheads.

The service begins with a processional of robed clergy and the liturgy and worship hearken back to my Catholic upbringing, but ring different to my weekly Sunday morning Anglican context. And differences tend to challenge my biases.

Have I confused deepening faith with comfort in familiarity? Or has my faith grown because I’ve become familiar in relationship with Jesus? Have I made the character and nature of Christ in my own image? Or the image of Christ that is completely other than me? Is my faith built on the architecture of my preferences? Or the preferred future God is building for me?

“Lent provides an altar for leaning into vulnerability; choosing the smudgy grace of a do-over through Christ’s crucifixion, and accepting that you are dust.” A Sabbath Journey for Lent

Lent is an opportunity to be emptied of what we cling to for comfort to reveal the unfamiliar rank of our sin. And Sabbath is an invitation to be emptied of all of the ways we’ve incorrectly defined ourselves by productivity; to become familiar with being over doing.

The prerequisites for Lent and Sabbath are much the same. We experience emptiness in order to be filled with a right perspective of God and our place in the world.

And emptiness isn’t comfortable for us, is it? An empty few minutes on a commute is an opportunity to fill time with scrolling on phones cradled in our tired hands. The gift of margin can become an anxious search for how to fill the space and God is longing for us to choose Him.

Will you wait for Him to come before choosing self-reliance?

Waiting in line at the post office, I heard the voice of impatience barking, “This is my second trip here today. Is the clerk who was helping me on his lunch break now?” Looking at her watch as if her time was more valuable than the one serving her. Waiting well isn’t something we aspire to.

Like the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai, waiting for Moses to climb down from the top after meeting with God in a cloud, we get tired of waiting, bore easily, and make golden calves for ourselves. (Exodus 32)

We know what it means to live by faith but respond to life as people dependent on sight in order to believe. “How can I be sure?” It’s the first question we ask when we can’t see the whites of God’s eyes in our circumstances. Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure?”when an angel was standing right in front of him, prophesying about the birth of his son, John the Baptist. His doubt led to God muting his words during Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

Today, I am observing Ash Wednesday in London, missing the presence of my first-born and in desperate need of the presence of my Savior. Rain is the repetitive forecast for the foreseeable future. Perhaps incessant crying on windowpanes is an apt metaphor to begin a penitent season.

Prayer of Repentance

God have mercy. Forgive us for our unbelief. Forgive us for choosing comfort and entertainment as a salve for uncertainty when our only true certainty is your presence.

Lord, when my actions reveal a preoccupation with the visible, remind me that ultimate fulfillment flows from the unseen. Do not allow me to define real life as only those things I can see, for I cannot see you, yet your love is real and defines my life.

Practicing a Sabbath Posture

This week choose a period of time to rest your eyes from those things that distract from experiencing the unseen reality of holy love.

If your knee jerk reaction is to turn the television on to fill the emptiness with Netflix, refrain. Invite the unseen powerful presence of God into the room instead.

If you are prone to assuage internal restlessness with the empty comfort of a shopping spree, Big Gulp or cappuccino, invite God’s loving thoughts about you to fill the void.

Is scrolling through social media on your phone your knee jerk reaction for filling whitespace? Choose to look up and capture God in your surroundings. Invite the unseen into the space where you sit or stand. What might God want you to see . . . in someone’s eyes, see . . . flying overhead, see . . . in the space where you live?

God is providing everything we need, but we are blind to see it when we choose the quick fix of a golden calf and refuse to wait on Him to act. Let’s lean into emptiness and waiting this week, trusting God to fill our emotional, spiritual, relational and physical voids.

Sabbath is a weekly reminder that God’s love reigns; He forgives us for taking life into our own hands. As in the example of the Exodus story, God is merciful and compassionate, setting us free from enslaving ourselves over and over again.

May we have eyes to see inside, beyond, and through; eyes that choose to see life from the heart of a Savior first.

More Goodies for You!

For more resources to make the season of Lent meaningful, check out a list of books I’m reading and a prayer of preparation for the Lenten season I wrote for you on my Patreon site. I’ve made the post public this week for those who are not yet patrons. Join me on Patreon for weekly podcasts, interviews with influencers, and vlogs about new things I’m creating for us.

And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram where I keep conversation fresh between us several times a week.

Subscribe to the Sabbath Society for weekly letters of encouragement, breath prayers, poems, and resources that help make rest realistic in your world.

Until next week . . . I’ll be resting with you on our Sabbath Journey through Lent.

Subscribe for Shelly’s stories and free resources here:


  1. Nancy Ruegg

    We too see incessant crying on our windowpanes this week. What a poignant image you’ve given us, Shelly, as Lent begins. / I’m just a beginner at leaning into emptiness and waiting in the stillness with God (and my journal). I desire to hear from Him, but often struggle to settle my mind and spirit. Also, the longer I wait the more undeserving and stymied I feel. Your words have calmed those reactions. I’m going to try just leaning into the emptiness–without groping for divine insights!

    • shelly

      Thanking God with you for calm and timely words. May Lent be a season creating more certainty for all of us!

  2. Sylvia

    Sitting in a cold snowy Chicago waiting to board a fl Got to Mesa, AZ for a few days of warmth, sunny skies and of course Cubs games. Thank you for the reminder to slow down and look for God in my surroundings.

    • shelly

      Lucky you!! Have a great time and enjoy every minute. Thanks for reading Sylvia.

  3. Kim Foster

    Spent this early morning in the Scriptures and reading A Sabbath Journey for Lent. This afternoon, I resonate with you here: “The gift of margin can become an anxious search for how to fill the space and God is longing for us to choose Him”. I want to choose Jesus over any ol’ time filler! I want to gaze on Him in the sanctuary to see His strength and His glory (Psalm 63). May He empower us to be so inclined this Lenten season. Amen.

    • shelly

      Yes, that is my heart too Kim. I was convicted as I sat down to watch television last night but then I realized, I’d spent hours beforehand praying and attending an Ash Wednesday service. Legalism is a fine line, yes? I’m so glad you are following along and making the Lenten season meaningful. I’m expectant!

  4. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Shelly, this is so beautiful, and I don’t know why, but I’d never thought of Lent as a season of emptiness. I love new insights you bring to me. I have always thought of it as a time of confession and repentance–a time of turning to God and remembering my mortality. But emptiness . . . why do I always have to fill my life with what is not God? He fills that void no one or nothing else can. Can I empty my life of sin and desire of what is not His will? It’s an uncomfortable feeling (interesting, how can we feel what is not there, what is empty?!) You have given me rich food for thought. THIS is okay for infilling to overflowing, right?

    Meaningful Lent to you, and I can’t wait to know your thoughts on Word in the Wilderness. It has been life-changing for me, and I’m so glad you decided to read it.

    • shelly

      I am LOVING Word in the Wilderness Lynn. I have re-read each reflection and poem twice every morning. So rich and full of depth–just the kind of book I was searching for. Thank you for the recommendation. I pray you have a meaningful Lent too my lovely friend.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Oh my! Rich, rich, rich. What I love about Guite, besides his deep insights which we can all apply, is his breadth of knowledge about so many eras of poetry. He has a way of being able to dovetail them, not just in a wide collection of poetry, but in the devotionals, themselves, in how he interweaves them. I am soooo glad that this speaks to you.
        PS Just had the thought filling my new electric tea kettle (feel SO British! :), that the emptier I am, the more the Holy Spirit can fill me. It not a novel thought, but one that bears my contemplating and asking for.

  5. Celeste Allyn

    I remember a trip to Pakistan where due to circumstances beyond our plans, we celebrated New year’s in three places. That was a very long day but what a story.
    As I have followed your words for some time and I read how you ” miss” your children, my next thoughts are ( for myself) it’s ok. I still miss the streets of Vancouver. Maybe that is my familiar that I struggle with. Funny you writing about Egypt and the Israelites. I often refer to myself as someone who grumbles about “missing the leeks and onions”. An apt description for a cook.
    I had been feeling a tad bit guilty for throwing people into the mix but I think it’s very good to miss people and hold memories in my heart. The real issue is a grateful heart.
    So I understand the part of familiarity and what I define comfort as. And, as I write these words down, this has just confirmed my Lenton time. Cultivating a grateful heart. I use the language of gardening because right now the snow has fallen throughout the night and continues through the day.
    Just two days ago I was raking up old leaves.
    Time to start that grateful part

    • shelly

      What a story indeed Celeste! I have come to the same place in terms of what I miss. It’s okay to yearn, long, desire but if those turn into idols replacing God, we miss contentment right where we live. If we are always wishing for what we don’t have, we miss the gifts God is giving us today. And gratitude keeps us hopeful in the here and now. Thanks for being here on the blog. You’ve been a faithful reader for how many years now? Since the beginning, I think. I remember your Snoopy profile pic. Grateful for your support.

  6. Theresa Boedeker

    I need a smudgy grace re-do any time of the year. Thanks for reminding us to slow down and rest from distractions. It is so important for refreshing our souls. Love your pictures. One day I hope to get to England. Until then I will visit through your pictures.

Pin It on Pinterest