February 14th is Ash Wednesday this year.
We should all go out to eat on Valentines Day with ashes on our foreheads.
I mean, whether you’re a Christian or not, you should go ahead and do it. Because Ash Wednesday is a day that speaks a deep truth about humanity that we all try to avoid: we’re mortal and flawed.
So no matter what kind of foundation you gussy yourself up with before that first date, and no matter what kind of aftershave you apply to make that skin smell just so-so fine, you can’t change the fact that we all share the same mortal boat.
And I don’t say this so that you will despair. I say it just out of honest truth.
Because here’s the thing: if you give your heart to something, you will lie to yourself. You will say, “This. I give it to this because it is worth my heart.” But the subtext that we too often have in such an action is some sort of delusion that the things worth our hearts are perfect or incorruptible or have earned it by some sort of morally superior truthfulness or…
Look, give your heart away to worthy things, but often times what makes them worthy is that you give your heart to them in the first place.
When I speak to couples about love and companionship and sometimes even marriage, I have to work hard to cut through the syrup and sentiment to arrive at something real at the bottom of it all: love is often, in the end, a choice.
Sure, it starts out as butterflies and pie in the sky, but once that wears away you will see what Ash Wednesday shows us: the flaw, the scar, the thing that was covered under foundation and aftershave, years of perfecting a story that omits a chapter, and hours of therapy.
But it is there, that flaw is there, and that is OK.
Do you hear me? That is OK.
Because you cannot give your heart to something perfect; there is no such animal…at least not one immediately available. You certainly are not perfect.
What Ash Wednesday can remind us, though, is that no flaw is fatal. It’s why Christians mark the forehead in not just any shape, but the shape of the cross, a paradoxical sign that is the embodiment of saying, “Dead things can live again…even those dead parts of you.”
And sometimes, Beloved, all it takes is a little love to make the dead places in us rise from the grave. Scars fade. Flaws smooth.
Just because something is dead in this life does not mean it will always be dead.
And nothing is ever perfect, mind you. Even Jesus’ own resurrection came with scars from the hurt and the pain of the fight two nights before.
But that body walked again, by God.
This year we have this fun juxtaposition: Cupid and Christ. Cupid blindly shoots and we romantically think we fall in love.
Christ, though…well, Christ’s love isn’t blind. God’s love isn’t blind to all our hurt and pain and wrongs and ego and all that mess. Christ’s love is visionary, illuminating all those shadowy parts of ourselves, exposing them for what they are: flawed but not fatal.
And that person you fall in love with? Perhaps we should stop imagining Cupid shooting blindly and start embracing a Divine love that sees all and still finds a way to keep the arms open, the welcome present, the love intact.
Not that you have to fall in love with someone to be whole. And even more so, sometimes the love we thought would last does not…cannot. Sometimes our flaws do push us apart in the end. Which is when we need to lean even more into the story of Ash Wednesday and a Christ whose love is visionary and completing (rather than competing).
Because it is not a flaw to not be partnered. Sometimes it is a calling.
And it is not a flaw to be divorced. Sometimes it is a necessity.
But when it all feels like a flaw, keep in mind that the deep truth of everything is that it has an expiration date. Feelings, life statuses, and even life itself. Things will not always seem and be the way are today.
So embrace the truth of the situation: we are dust. Glorious star dust, the stuff of the cosmos, wonderful and beautiful and sparkling, and yet, dust all the same.
So risk the date, fall in love, eyes wide open. Or be single and loving it, giving your heart to many other worthwhile things.
But remember that things aren’t worthwhile because they are perfect; often they are worthwhile because you love them.
And how do I know?
Because you and I are not perfect, and yet we are loved by God. And others.
And we’re worth it.