Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian season of Lent, and Valentine’s Day will both be celebrated next week. The calendar has them falling just a day apart this year with Ash Wednesday on Wednesday and Valentine’s Day on Thursday. While these two days stand for something quite different from one another, I would like to share a brief reflection that might actually help us to see what these two days have in common.
Imagine a person buys a beautiful bouquet of flowers for his or her beloved for Valentine’s day. The person receiving the flowers is moved to tears and says, “Your expression of love means SO much to me. Thank you so much.” And then imagine the person giving the flowers responds by saying, “Well, it is Valentine’s Day you know and I didn’t want you to be mad at me if I didn’t do something for you today.”
Ouch! The flowers in and of themselves would have been a wonderful gift. But when the person says, “I just didn’t want you to be mad at me,” all of the positive energy of the gift of the flowers disappears. Why? Because the giver of the flowers revealed that their giving of the flowers was motivated not by love, but fear. Giving someone a gift because you are afraid they might be mad otherwise is very different than giving that gift to express genuine love.
This is where Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day have something in common. Our true motives in regard to how we approach each of these days makes all the difference. Because organized religion has so often encouraged a fear-based approach to getting people to do the right thing, many people approach Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent, and many religious traditions in the spirit of, “I better do something because I don’t want God to be mad at me.” In matters of love and spirituality, the “why” we do something is as important as the “what” we do. Rather than approach Lent from a place of fear or guilt, why not approach it from this kind of mindset? “I choose to do certain things in this season of Lent in order to strengthen my connection with God because I am grateful and thankful for for God’s love and for all that God has given me.”
If you will be celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent, and if you will be celebrating Valentine’s Day next week, I encourage you to do so with a spirit of love and delight. Give of yourself freely because you truly desire to do so and not because you are worried about what might happen if you do not. A portion of Psalm 51 which will be read at Ash Wednesday services everywhere says,
Love in any form, from those on Earth or that of God, indeed renews the spirit within us and when we feel it we, cannot help but express in return that loving spirit with joy and delight. The expression of heartfelt feelings of love in any form is only authentic and meaningful if the motivation itself is grounded in love, not fear. When we are clear about the motivation, the “what” we do or give becomes less important and the true expression of gratitude and thanksgiving for that love takes care of itself, both on Valentine’s Day and in observing Lent.