When it comes down to it, Jesus only needed two sentences to sum the law up for his followers. First, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." And second, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Those of us who try to be disciples of Christ are really good at trying to add our own words or interpretations to his, but in the end Jesus really made it pretty clear. If you want to follow him, and if you want to be a Christian, then your only job is to love.
Love and ashes don't often go together in our minds. But this time of year, it's the ashes that remind me of what Jesus tried to teach us about love.
Ash Wednesday comes early this year, and with it comes the beginning of Lent, the season when we disciples turn our hearts toward Christ and seek to be reconciled to him. And while the stores start stocking plastic eggs and Easter baskets, we do something that is completely counter-cultural: We go to church, and we smear ashes on our foreheads, and we remind one another that everything we know is only temporary.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
What used to be a heart-stopping reminder for me has instead become a moment of refocusing. In the big scheme of things, who we are as individuals is finite and fleeting. But who we are together, and who we are to God, is what matters, and what truly defines us, even when we are gone.
In Lent we remember the great truth: It's not all about us.
Each Lent I feel myself called back to community, both human and divine, by that message. And when that calling comes, so does the reminder of those two commands of Christ: Love God, and love others as you love yourself.
For centuries Christians have undertaken a form of Lenten discipline, which is to say a practice that will in some way turn their hearts to Christ as prepare them for the new life that comes with Easter. For many, Lent is a time to give something up: meat or candy or Facebook. But Lent doesn't have to just be about giving up. In fact, at its best it isn't. Because if our Lenten discipline is only about us, and what we will allow ourselves, we miss the point.
Instead, what if we embraced Lent as an opportunity to show our love for God and others? We spend so much time focused on ourselves and on our own needs, but what if we used these forty days focus on something else? What if we took those days and dedicated each to reminding ourselves that it's not about us as individuals, but it's about God, and it's about all of us together?
This Lent I'm giving myself a challenge. I'm calling it my Lenten "It's Not About Me" Challenge. Here's how it works: Each day I want to do at least one thing that either strengthens my connection with God, or shows my love for my neighbor.
That might sound like a lot at first glance, like it's just creating one more piece of work in our already crammed schedules. But what I'm advocating isn't about creating additional burdens. It's about being more conscious of what we are already doing, and using our time in a way that connects us with others and with the Holy other.
When we start doing that, the daily walk turns into an opportunity for prayer. The trip to the grocery store yields a few more cans of soup for the food pantry. And a few extra dollars turn into donation that makes a difference. We don't have to turn the world on its axis. We simply have to turn our attention outward, and make the small things matter in big ways.
This is my challenge to myself, but I'd like to offer it to others who are journeying this Lenten path. This is, after all, about turning away from "it's all about me" and turning toward community. And so, I invite you to join me on this path. I'll be tweeting about my journey using the hashtag #notaboutme and I invite you to do the same if you'd like.
In the end, my hope is to have 40 days of growing closer to God, and of trying to honor the commandment of love that Christ gave us. Along the way, I hope that I might make things a little better for some folks around me too. Not because it will make me a better person, but because it will be a tangible reminder of Christ's love for others. I've had plenty of blessings in my life, and plenty of grace from God. Lent can be a journey of recognizing those blessings, and blessing others. Because it's not a journey that's about me.
Follow Rev. Emily C. Heath on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emilycheath