Returning to Ashes & Falling in Love

Ever since I realized that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday were going to fall on the same day this year, I’ve been trying to reconcile the spirit of both of them.  Until this morning, I wasn’t sure at all how to hold them at the same time.  I love Valentine’s Day.  I love celebrating the other couples in my life, my own partner, and the ways in which I love my friends and family members.  I also value the traditions of the liturgical calendar and find meanings in its seasons.  So, how am I supposed to do both at the same time? On one hand, they seem to be opposites.  Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, calling us to make sacrifices, remember our own sin and mortality, and look to the suffering and redemption of the cross.  Valentine’s Day on the other is bright red candy hearts, balloons, chocolate covered strawberries, and kisses.  They seem to almost be opposites – one full of mourning while the other is full of celebration.

However, the more I considered what it truly means to love each other, the more the partnering of these two days began to reveal itself.  Loving others is difficult.  Heck, loving myself is difficult.  So, what better to remind us of our own mortality and shortcomings than a day also focused on love?  Love requires sacrifice.  It requires relinquishing our desire to always have our way. It calls us to stop being so selfish all the time.  But, as Ash Wednesday so poignantly reminds us, we are always falling short.  Our ability to love others is stained by the traumas of our past, our family systems, and other times that love has failed us.  Love shows us how truly broken we are.

For the past two years, I’ve been in the healthiest and most rewarding relationship of my life.  Given, many of my previous partners were abusive and manipulative in a variety of ways, but my current partner is a true gem.  As we’ve grown closer, though, we often find ourselves in disagreements because of the baggage that we carry.  Our families taught us to handle conflict differently.  We organize our homes in different ways.  Our personalities are just different: I don’t know how to slow down and rest while he treasures an afternoon doing nothing.  I’m easily distracted during conversations, interrupting to point out dogs or funny signs, while he feels hurt when it seems like I’m not paying attention.  I’m grateful for the ways we’ve learned to navigate these differences and learn about each other.  But it is work to love another well.

Despite the difficulty, though, we are called to love others.  Nothing could be more clear in the Christian scriptures and throughout the sacred texts of other traditions.  Love one another.  Even though we are going to disappoint people that we care about, we are called to love them.  Even though we might get hurt, we are called to offer our hearts.  Even when we don’t agree, we are called to offer love instead of division.  What else is there to do in our brokenness but love?

This Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day (VaLENTine’s Day?), let us hold space for both love and imperfection.  How can we offer forgiveness to those who fail to love us perfectly? How can we make the sacrifices we would want others to make for us?  How can we fight to overcome our brokenness to offer love and, in turn, be made more whole?  We are from dust and we will return to dust, but in the meantime, let us honor our fragile condition by handling each other with the care we each deserve.

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