I confess that the question that most reflected my posture towards God this Ash Wednesday was, “What more do you want from me?” It seemed an innocent question in the morning, but by evening I could no longer ignore that it dripped bitterness. While others bowed low and kneeled deep, respecting the holiness of this Lenten season, my knees had not touched the ground for the puddle of bitterness had frozen and I was not to be moved. My forehead bore no sign of the cross, no mark of the ashes. The only calendar I respected was the one that marked four months since Webb’s death. Surely I get a pass this season. Is it not enough that I’d been shaken to the core by my own son’s death? Would God really have the gall to ask me to shatter for the death of His? I had become all too familiar with ashes and death, and I assumed that a merciful God would recognize my limits and allow me to sit this one out, to not think much about it. Yet sitting at my son’s grave on this Ash Wednesday evening and on this four -month anniversary, I can think of nothing else.
Try as I may to amputate Jesus’ walk in the wilderness from my own walk this season, I am unable to ignore my soul’s stirring that pulls me deeper into the wild. My attempts to sacrifice chocolate in lieu of suffering prove futile and again, I am drawn further into the darkness. As I lay on the ground next to Webb’s grave, my face pressed into the soil and dampness from the dew soaking into my jeans, I realize that I can no more ignore Lent than I can ignore my own grief. The earth’s imprint on my forehead is my sign of the cross, and the grass stains on my knees are my mark of ashes. It is on the ground next to the grave that I bow lower than perhaps I ever have. Though it is death that brings me to my knees, it is mercy that pulls my face to the earth. The deeper I break and the lower I bow in the darkness, the greater my understanding and the more powerful my appreciation of the light of the Resurrection. And though I drag my heels this Ash Wednesday, God in his mercy pulls me into the pain and the power of Lent. For this wilderness is not a destination, but a path to the cross. As my lips kiss the grass and my mind is fixed on the cross, my question for God shifts from, “What more do you want from me?” to “What more do you want for me?” Mercy thaws bitterness and I press deeper into the wild.