By: Kelsey Sandvall
Today is Ash Wednesday, which begins the traditional Christian season of Lent—40 days preceding Easter that are marked by repentance, fasting, and prayer as followers of Christ look towards the Cross. Many Christians will choose to give up something or commit to a spiritual practice as a Lenten discipline.
As a mom, it’s hard to always know how to fit these Special Things into my days
already filled with crushed Cheerios, leaky diapers, carpool lines, sing-song
reminders about kind words and gentle hands, snotty noses, sibling rivalry, dirty
dishes, mounds of laundry, lunch boxes, and teachable moments. Now “they” want
me to do another thing? For six weeks? And if we’re being honest, don’t we all have moments where we think, “What do I have left to give up, anyways?”
The beauty of Lent, though, and of Ash Wednesday in particular, is that this season is actually least of all about performance and measuring up. If you feel like you’re always hustling (or struggling, depending on the day) to meet a certain standard of “Good Mom,” there’s good news to be heard on this day. During Lent, we receive the reminder that we are but dust, and to dust we will return. What’s more, we’re all messed up and broken in ways we can’t even begin to troubleshoot and patch up, even with our supermom powers to fix All The Things. So how is this bad news…good news?
In Lent, God isn’t adding 40 more checkboxes to your already overflowing to-do list. He is inviting you to 40 days of walking with him—a journey that is by no means simple or straightforward, but that He promises to take with you. We don’t have to—in fact, we can’t—be good enough. Instead, we can accept the invitation to walk with the One who is.
So how do we walk with a God we can’t see for 40 days? And why is it 40, anyways? In the Bible, the number 40 has great significance. While Noah and his mobile zoo were aboard the ark, rain lashed the earth for 40 days and 40 nights, wiping out all other life on the planet. When Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, he fasted for 40 days; Elijah also fasted for 40 days as he trekked towards Mount Horeb as he fled the murderous Queen Jezebel. After God rescued the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until they were allowed to enter the Promised Land. Following his baptism, Jesus himself went into the desert for 40 days, eating and drinking nothing and resisting a series of three temptations from Satan.
Over and over, we see in the Bible that the number forty corresponds to periods of waiting and self-denial followed by transformation and promises kept.
After the flood, Noah and his family set their feet back on solid ground and saw God’s beautiful rainbow, a sign of his covenant to never again wipe off life from the earth. After turning more circles and zig-zags through the wilderness than a toddler let loose in Target, the Israelites were finally brought across the River Jordan to their new promised homeland. Moses, after some frank conversations with God about the stiff-necked, always-on-the-knife’s-edge-of-rebellion Israelites, came down from the mountain with God’s covenant in hand. Elijah, despairing and weary of fighting for his life, hiked for 40 days and received the presence of God on the holy mountain and a promise about his prophetic successor. And Jesus, coming out of the desert after 40 days, walked on in his earthly ministry. Time and again in Scripture, God’s people are called to journeys that are both tiresome and, eventually, fruitful.
As a mom, the number 40 means something to me, as well. The average human gestation is 40 weeks (or 40 billion years, if you’re asking a mama in her late third trimester). This too, whether you’re a biological or adoptive mother, is a period of waiting and self-denial, and certainly of transformation.
But what do we do as mothers when we don’t always yet see the promises kept? What do we do when the baby comes too early and we leave her in the NICU, when the baby is lost horribly and tragically, when the baby is sick, when the baby’s biological family reclaims custody, or when the baby is never conceived at all? What do we do when the toddlers and the preschoolers and the big kids make us wonder day in and day out if we’ll make it till next week, or if they’ll be functioning members of society? What do we do with diagnoses, disappointments, dysfunction, depression, and despair? Will there be fruit at the end of our long journeys as mothers?
This tension is where I want to invite you to stay on this Ash Wednesday. There’s no simple answer. Midweek, mid-sentence, mid-life—let’s wait. Let’s look to the lessons of how we’ve waited for our children, and see what we can learn about how God waits for his. As mamas, the hard truth is that we’re not promised ease, security, longevity, or health when it comes to our childbearing and rearing. But this promise we do have—that God will always, always, always walk with us, and will lead us through the wilderness to whatever fruit he has for us on the other side.
As we wait, let us hope.
As we deny ourselves, let us receive grace.
As we expect transformation, let us have eyes to see the little steps of progress.
As we wait for a promise kept, let us have faith that the One who promises is faithful.